From Publishers Weekly
Although many people know Martin Luther King Jr. died in Memphis, few know what he was doing there, observes labor historian Honey in this moving and meticulous account of the sanitation workers' strike in Memphis between January and April 1968. Marrying labor history to civil rights history, the University of Washington professor fluently recounts the negotiations that ensued after black sanitation workers revolted over being sent home without pay on rainy days, although white workers were paid. While showing how their work stoppage became a strike, then a local movement, before coalescing in the Poor People's Campaign, Honey also reveals King's shift in emphasis "from desegregation and voting rights to the war and the plight of the working class." He also vividly captures many dramatic moments, including marches and sermons as well as King's assassination and its violent aftermath. While familiar villains, famous civil rights activists and King himself often take center stage, the rank-and file workers, whose lives are revealed here, remain the story's heroes and martyrs. Honey's passionate commitment to labor is undisguised, making this effort a worthy and original contribution to the literature. (Jan.)
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Labor scholar Honey examines the intersection between issues of race and economics in the U.S. in the 1960s from the perspective of the Memphis garbage workers' strike, Martin Luther King Jr.'s last campaign. In rich detail, Honey lays out the background for the strike: the appalling working conditions and feudalistic "plantation mentality" of the white business and government sector, led by racist mayor Henry Loeb. Honey also profiles the garbage workers of Memphis, everyday men who toiled for little money, mostly former rural workers come to the city to earn more money. He details the complexities behind local politics and economics, the forced alliances between civil rights movement and local groups, the tensions between the two political parties as the issue of civil rights shifted loyalties, and the power of local white citizens' groups. Honey explores King's expansive view of how racism was woven into the economic fabric of the nation and his frustration at the difficulty of devising strategies that would lead to economic justice as well as civil rights. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved