Crowds march to scene of slaying

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. --- Sanitation worker Leslie Moore looks back with pride to 1968, when he and his co-workers finally stood up to their white bosses and walked off the job.

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Thousands march on Main Street in Memphis, Tenn., on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The march began at City Hall.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Thousands march on Main Street in Memphis, Tenn., on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The march began at City Hall.

"They had to respect us then," Mr. Moore said. "We decided we ain't going to take it any more."

The strike lasted 65 days and brought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to town to champion the black workers' cries for better pay, reasonable work hours and protection from racist bosses.

Dr. King was felled by an assassin's rifle slug while in Memphis to help lead the strike, and his admirers across the country held marches and rallies Friday to remember the 40th anniversary of his death.

Mr. Moore, 61, joined other veterans of the Memphis strike in marching to the place where Dr. King was cut down.

"Dr. King was like Moses," Mr. Moore said. "God gave Moses the assignment to lead the children of Israel across the Red Sea. He sent Dr. King here to lead us to a better way."

The march to the former Lorraine Motel, which drew several hundred participants despite a heavy rain, began about a mile away at the local headquarters of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the sanitation workers' union. A later march through downtown began at city hall and brought out several hundred more marchers who also walked to the Lorraine, once a blacks-only motel that is now the National Civil Rights Museum.

The afternoon crowd was mostly black but included people of all colors and stations, a display of the kind of unity Dr. King once dreamed of and found so elusive in the violence-drenched 1950s and 1960s.

"I was too young to be a part of the struggle," said union member Sherl Commodore, 50, of Baltimore. "But to be able to come here 40 years later is awesome."

Youth counselor Joe Beavers said he and forensic scientist Cassandra Franklin, a black couple from Nashville, joined the afternoon march in hopes of teaching their daughter that Dr. King "was one of the people who made it easier for her to grow up in a society where we can be colorblind."

"We're celebrating his life," 7-year-old Alex said.

The museum opened in 1991 at the Lorraine and holds exhibits tracing the history of America's struggle for equal rights from the nation's birth to today. The museum also encompasses the flophouse across the street from which James Earl Ray, a white man, fired the bullet that killed Dr. King as he stood on a balcony at the motel. Mr. Ray died in prison in 1998.


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