King's widow leads march of 10,000 in Memphis

MEMPHIS, April 8, 1968 (UPI) -- Mrs. Martin Luther King, dressed in black and with her children at her side, led a silent 10,000-man march today through this city where her husband was slain, then challenged her followers to see that her husband's spirit "Those of us who believe in what Martin Luther King stood for, I would challenge you to see that his spirit never dies, and we will go forward from this experience -- which to me represents the crucifixion -- to resurrection and redemption of the spirit," Mrs. King said. She spoke without notes for 15 minutes.

Standing straight and solemn, she traced the history of their life together from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to "Voting rights for political power."


"And now we are at the point where we must have economic power," she said. "He was concerned about 'the least of those,' the garbage and sanitation workers in Memphis, and that is why he came back to Memphis, to give you his aid."


The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who took over the reins of Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke following Mrs. King and pledged that the work of Dr. King would continue.

Abernathy, too, likened the death of Dr. King to the crucifixion, saying:

"Martin Luther King took his cross on his shoulder over at the Lorraine Motel, and there he was crucified."

Abernathy said he came to Memphis "not to participate in a memorial service, but to cry out to say to this nation and to this world: 'We are bound for the promised land.'

"We ain't gonna let nobody...whether it be Lyndon Baines Johnson or the Congress of the United States...we ain't gonna let nobody turn us around..."

Abernathy stressed that the movement intended to go ahead with Dr. King's planned "poor people's" march on Washington, declaring:

"We are going yes, we are going to Washington, but we are going to stay here in Memphis until this problem is solved."

Dr. King's campaign in Memphis was in support of striking garbage workers, who are demanding higher pay and an end to discrimination.

While the march and speeches were underway, National Guardsmen, with their bayonetted rifles at port arms, stood on rooftops, framed starkly against the gloomy sky. Police helicopters hovered overhead.


Labor leaders, entertainers, and the men who aided Dr. King through 10 years of civil rights leadership walked with his widow. Dr. King planned the march to support a strike by the city's Negro garbage collectors and to prove he could keep a massive demonstration peaceful.

But he was killed Thursday by a white sniper's bullet that felled him on the balcony of his hotel room, a block from the march route.

The march for the garbage collectors became a march in memory of King.

Walking eight abreast in silence, the marchers carried 12-by-18-inch placards on their chests, reading:

"Union Justice Now!"

"Honor King: End Racism!"

"I am A Man!"

Several thousand of the marchers were white. Many carried picket signs identifying their hometowns. They came from across the nation, walking at a funeral pace. Scattered through the marchers were many priests and nuns, most of them white.

At City Hall thousands of white spectators lined the street, many of them with cameras, jostling each other to get a picture of the widow.

Mrs. King's plane was late leaving Atlanta, due to weather, and the march started without her. It went to the corner of Beale and Main Streets -- where the march Dr. King led here a week ago burst into a riot -- and stopped to wait for her.


She arrived in a caravan of police cars with flashing blue lights and stepped out, dressed in solid black. With her were her children, Martin Luther III, 10, Dexter, 7, and Yolanda, 12. Their fourth child, 4-year-old Albertine stayed in Atlanta.

The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King's handpicked successor at the helm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped her and the children out of the limousine. They flew to Memphis in singer Harry Belafonte's private jet and the SCLC officials came in jetliners chartered by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

Mrs. King, the three children and Abernathy took their places at the head of the march, and Belafonte walked beside Yolanda. Beside him in the front row was Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famed pediatrician and anti-war leader.

After she had walked a block, police tried to persuade her to ride in a limousine the rest of the way to city hall. But she shook her head grimly and walked on.

Five thousand National Guardsmen were on guard and hundreds of police, highway patrolmen and sheriff's deputies helped patrol every intersection.

One of Dr. King's aides, the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago, looked at the march protection and said to an officer: "This is military occupation -- what are you trying to do?"


The marchers ranged from well-dressed Negroes with their families to workmen in rough clothing.

Signs identified contingents from Michigan, New York, Missouri, Chicago, Houston, Cincinnati, Detroit and other cities.

Heading the contingent of labor leaders was Walter Ruether, president of the United Auto Workers.

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