At the end of last month, I was finally able attend the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday conference. I have wanted to participate for nearly 20 years. and all the pieces fell into place for this year's event. Besides the conference itself, a book I was introduced to there, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, became the highlight of the weekend, and not just for me.
The US labor movement's true role in Dr. King's birthday becoming a national holiday is almost as forgotten as brother Martin's actual legacy. From the time of King's assassination in 1968, industrial unions, particularly the United Auto Workers, made the fight for the Reverend's birthday a major contract issue. For years, the Civil Rights Department's conference took place in Atlanta near the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. As the King family, and the King Center itself, became more interested in corporate sponsorships than actually serving the people, the annual conference moved to various other locations around the country where the community and the labor movement were engaged in struggle.