On Martin Luther King Day 2014, I’d like to draw your attention to, “Facing the Challenge of a New Age” (December 3rd, 1956). King, then 27, gave this speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama (pictured below), as the opening to the Montgomery Improvement Association’s week-long Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change. The excerpt below exemplifies how Dr. King saw dignity in labor, and the potential of labor to ignite social change (via the Stanford Archives):
“We must set out to do a good job, irrespective of race, and do it so well that nobody could do it better.
Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. Even if it does not fall in the category of one of the so-called big professions, do it well. As one college president said, “A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.” If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.”
Labor’s a lynchpin to Dr. King’s message of change. Overcoming injustice is not a matter of violence towards others, but a means of doing great work for yourself. His words on Dec. 11 1961 to the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) are as follows (for more historical relevance, view his original document, via The King Center):
Remember, many have fought for the opportunity to work. In one of his last speeches, Martin Luther King spoke in Support of the Memphis Sanitation Strike. It remains a testament for the modern worker (full text, via the American Federation of Teachers):
“Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.”