While researching at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta in 1992, Washington University professor Michael Honey found an inconspicuous folder marked "King's Labor Speeches." He opened it, and found a trove of King's addresses to labor unions and workers' rights coalitions—most of which had never been published.
This discovery led to "All Labor Has Dignity": King's Speeches on Labor, a collection edited by Honey and released in January by Beacon Press as part of their "King Legacy" series. The book shows an eerily prescient Dr. King, a clear-eyed visionary who speaks prophetically about the host of issues facing our nation today. In the eloquent, mythic language for which he is famous, King lambastes economic forces growing the gap between rich and poor, the massive tax resources used for war spending while domestic programs languished, and the knee-jerk demonizing of progressive social reform as "communist." He even criticizes the conservative senators—he calls them "Neanderthals"—who abused their filibuster privilege to block meaningful legislative change.
The collection demonstrates that historical considerations of Dr. King's contributions have overlooked his dogged dedication to the organized labor movement, and his fight on behalf of the working poor across racial divides. I spoke with Honey about King's work for workers' rights, the historical context of the speeches, and the relevance of King's conclusions to ongoing 21st-century American labor disputes.