MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Activists claiming an imbalance in economic and social equality rallied at a Memphis church on Tuesday, the 49th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
More than 200 people gathered at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church to hear guest speakers talk about the legacy of King, who was shot down by a sniper's bullet at a Memphis hotel on April 4, 1968. King was in the midst of his "Poor People's Campaign" when he came to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers seeking better pay, safer working conditions and union rights.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. William Barber each talked about how King's fight for economic and racial equality and social justice is far from over. A vocalist belted out a religious hymn and another song, "The Impossible Dream," and attendees held hands in prayer.
Barber, known for his firebrand public speaking style, called for those seeking progress on social and economic issues affecting poor people to help register more blacks voters and engage in "civil disobedience." Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, was critical of President Donald Trump, including his effort to suspend new visas for people in six Muslim-majority countries. At one point, he called Trump a "narcissistic tweeter."
"We are not those who believe the terrible lies that the best way to better America is to attack public education and attack Muslims and attack immigrants and attack living wages," said Barber, progressively raising his voice. "How in the world can America attack refugees when we sing 'God bless America, shed his grace on us,' but we don't have grace for immigrants? That's contradictory to everything we say we believe."
Then, he added: "We are the crowd that believes in justice and love and mercy and goodness and hope, the common good, the general welfare. We believe liberal is a good word, and conservative is a good word."
Outside the church, Sharon Johnson, 60, said she came to the rally to honor King's memory.
"He came from the right place in his heart, believing that all people are equal, that everyone should be treated with respect, that people deserve equal pay for their work," said Johnson, a pharmacy technician. "He sacrificed his life to make that happen. It's important that we don't forget him and we try to do something about truly fulfilling his dream."
The rally preceded a march scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in downtown Memphis. Supporters of Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 movement plan to gather at Memphis City Hall before marching to the National Civil Rights Museum.
The museum is located at the site of the former Lorraine Motel. King was standing on the motel's balcony when he was killed.
The Fight for $15 group wants a higher minimum wage for low-pay workers, including fast food employees and home and child care workers. The Black Lives Matter movement developed after the deaths of unarmed black men during confrontations with white police officers and has waged protests throughout the country.
Rallies also were scheduled in Florida, California, Illinois and Michigan on Tuesday.