A former civil rights organizer continues his studies about Martin Luther King Jr. by focusing on King’s insistence that all Americans receive a living wage for their work.
Honey (Humanities/Univ. of Washington, Tacoma; Going Down the Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign, 2007, etc.) makes the case that King stood for far more than racial integration, which included legal rights and voting rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Taking a deep dive into King’s publicly delivered speeches, published writings, and unpublished notes, the author shows his subject’s zealous commitment to organizing low-income individuals into certified or informal labor unions, not only to raise poverty-level wages, but also to close the huge earnings gap between bosses and their employees. King’s effort eventually coalesced into the Poor People’s Campaign. Honey notes King’s prescience as an opponent of modern-day exploitative racial capitalism. When he was assassinated in 1968, he was visiting Memphis to support striking sanitation workers regarding collective bargaining for better wages, job safety, and replacement of abusive supervisors. “Some saw the strike of garbage and street and sewer workers as a small story, but…King elevated it as part of an epochal movement for human freedom,” writes the author. Throughout the book, Honey mixes King’s policy platforms with well-known biographical material, thus interrupting the focus on policy. Honey is especially avid in describing the attempted takedowns of King by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Honey also continually mentions the well-known premonitions by King that he would die prematurely and violently, his tactics grounded in nonviolence, and his speechmaking eloquence. Whenever the author regains his focus on King’s policies, the book tends to be revelatory—especially since income inequality has become a major touchstone 50 years after King’s assassination. Honey expresses disappointment that King’s campaign for economic justice has stalled, with labor unions disappearing along with American-based manufacturing jobs.
Less a revisionist history of King than a worthy look at a seldom-documented portion of his agenda.