Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was in Memphis Tuesday to commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago Wednesday at the age of 39.
Ridley-Thomas told City News Service in a telephone interview that he was a 13-year-old student on campus at George Washington Carver Junior High School when news of the civil rights leader’s death broke.
King had been invited to Memphis by the Rev. James Lawson, a Methodist minister active in the civil rights movement, to support striking sanitation workers. King delivered what would be his final sermon — “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” — less than 24 hours before he was gunned down on a second-floor balcony at the Lorraine Motel.
“There were non-stop announcements on television, on radio,” Ridley-Thomas said, recalling that King’s speeches “dominated the airways” for the next two weeks.
“That was a turning point in my life as it relates to the philosophy of non-violence,” he said.
Ridley-Thomas traveled to Memphis to join Lawson and other elected officials, clergy, labor leaders, academics and entertainers in paying tribute to King. Other Southlanders who made the trip included the Rev. Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, longtime Los Angeles labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles.
“We are paying our respects and making the appropriate contributions that we can make to the conversation about the unfinished business of Dr. King,” Ridley-Thomas said.
In King’s final speech, he urged his audience to “redistribute the pain” by boycotting companies that refused to treat workers fairly and instead supporting black-owned banks and insurance companies.
“We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, `God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right,”’ King said.
Ridley-Thomas told City News Service that “the struggle continues, there’s no denying that. Many view this particular point in time as a huge setback for the agenda of justice in the United States of America.”
The supervisor plans to spend Wednesday joining in mass meetings and a march, and to “keep fighting, keep struggling, keep preaching, keep teaching, keep practicing non-violent philosophy and direct action.”
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