Henry Loeb was sworn into office neither he or the rest of the world would come to understand the legacy that would follow. Loeb was from a wealthy Jewish family who would latter convert to the Episcopal Church. His conservatism and stubbornness would be part of 104 days that changed the world and silenced one of the most promising voices of humanity. On January 31st torrential rain had sent the sanitation workers of Memphis Tennessee. Home. The next day two workers were killed (Echol Cole and Robert Walker) causing a outcry of unsafe working conditions. Over the next 11 days the sanitation workers had in earnest tried to make simple demands of the City of Memphis that were never met. On February 12th 1,100 of the cities sanitation workers unable to resolve their grievances with the city walk off the job. Jerry Wurf President of AFSCME after many attempts to unionize the ministers and other civic leaders relented and the members of the sanitation workers were then organized and the local branch of AFSCME was formed.
A sit in was scheduled the next day James Lawson and 150 members of the local churches formed COME Community on the Move for Equality. The sit in was a expression of peaceful disobedience non violent protest. The city of Memphis saw otherwise Loeb would enlist the police to break up the sit in tear gas and mace was used and over 100 protesters were arrested but the sit in only galvanized the community further as many high school and college students nearly one quarter of them white would join the sit in.
Lawson would keep constant vigil and prayer over the phone with Martin Luther King who was kept in constant updates to the progress of the strike. Loeb would then declare martial law and bring in over 4000 national guard troops to Memphis. A movement of a black youth group called black power would walk the streets and further complicate the boiling pot that had now been steaming over the city. King perplexed about joining the movement at this point The workers had been caring signs that read I AM A MAN walked up and down in front of city hall.
On April 3rd Martin Luther King would visit Memphis and give his most haunting speech. The crowd was tired as they had battled yet another storm and the closing of his last speech would still the world in manor that had not been felt since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. His last words from the pulpit “We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."“ These words would echo from every corner of the globe as a Nobel Prize winner who had galvanized the masses from Stockholm to Memphis walked off the alter and would never grace us with his eloquence again.
The very next day upon returning to Lorain Hotel Martin Luther King was shot a nation was in turmoil. In major cities across American the billowing smoke could be seen as cities burned in protest. Bobby Kennedy would alert the nation at a campaign stop in Indiana against the advice of the local police officials unable to provide protection addressed a weary nation. In Boston James Brown was set to perform a concert when Mayor Kevin White pleaded with him to cancel the concert. James brown refused and latter that night the Mayor would broadcast the event live on local television. As the concert began many had rushed the stage and the police were moving in to restore order when James brown addressed the crowd and persuaded the audience to return to its seats. Having been in Boston Children’s Hospital that day my father had out of fear spent the night. James Brown performed and Boston was one of the few cities did not succumb to rioting and order was restored. A teary eyed James Brown had with a heavy heart entertained the crowd.
President Lyndon Johnson had charged Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds with negotiating a solution and ending the strike. On April 8th lead by a grieving Coretta Scott King would lead a march of 42,000 through Memephis in Honor of MLK. Reynolds would continue to meet with the Loeb and through much deliberation between the union, COME and the workers on April 16th the strike had finally ended.
The 1st 104 days of 1968 will be remember for the final chapter in the life of Martin Luther King. What was amazing was that he was a threat to the highest order in that any time he would appear his influence would follow. He no longer was a voice of only Civil rights he had become a citizen of the world. Had he lived what influence would he have had over strikes all over the United States? Unions saw the power in him. Presidents could not ignore him and his enemies would come to fear him as they could not contain the force of righteousness that trembled from his lips. No longer would they be able to do business as usual he exposed oppression and advocated for the rights of all men.
On April 3rd 1968 Martin Luther King sat in the Pantheon and was carried by the Gods to Mount Olympus and meet with Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around and as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. He would visit Rome consult with the Emperors. He would open the doors of the church of Wittenberg He would guide the pen of Abraham Lincoln. He would whisper in the ears of Franklin Roosevelt that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. His spirit was felt in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee--the cry is always the same--"We want to be free." He would stand in front of Bull Conner and Henry Loeb no longer can you call your dogs mace my children. For his eyes have seen the glory.