On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, WNYC presented the fourth annual celebration of the civil rights leader at the Brooklyn Museum. Some of the panelists were members of King’s generation who knew him personally, and some were younger activists, artists, and scholars who have been inspired by his legacy and vision. They included Roy Innis, Obery Hendricks, Christine Yvette Lewis, Jeanne Theoharis, Peniel Joseph, and Natalia Aristizabal-Betancur.
Obery Hendricks, a Professor of Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary, said that King was always concerned with class and economic rights, and his concern showed itself while he was in his teens.
During summers off from college, King, the privileged preacher's kid, worked in factories, hauled furniture at a mattress company, and worked at railway express, not because he needed the money...because he wanted to learn about workers problems and their feelings.
Hendricks noted that the full title of the famous 1963 March on Washington was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Justice," and "he made it clear to all assembled that economic rights were just as crucial for him as civil rights." Hendricks pointed out that the day King died, he was fighting for a living wage among sanitation workers in Memphis.
Many of the activists at the event spoke about the struggle of domestic workers, particularly immigrants, as the gaping civil rights issue of the 21st century, and surmised that Dr. King would have been on their side. "King is really one of the most passionate advocates not just for unions but also for domestic workers and also welfare rights activists," said Peniel Joseph, associate professor of African American Studies and History at Brandeis University.
Natalia Aristizabal-Betancur, an organizer at Make the Road by Walking, an immigrant rights organization, said King would have supported the dreams of undocumented youth who want to contribute to the American economy, and the DREAM Act. "Tons of youths I work with are hiding from the cops, who are in their house saying, 'I want to be a doctor, I really want to go to this school, but I'm not allowed to go to this school because I'm undocumented, and I can't pay because I'm not supposed to work and I don't get financial aid," she said.
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