NEA Honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Labor Legacy


By Felix Perez

“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse College student newspaper, 1947

Revered the world over for his transformative role in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the fundamental link uniting education, social justice and economic justice.

His unshakable belief in the power of education to lift up a people and advance worker rights is one of the many reasons tens of thousands of people — including NEA leadership — will gather in the nation’s capital this weekend to dedicate the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. The dedication ceremony marks the 48th anniversary of King’s history-making March on Washington for jobs and freedom, and his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

This historic moment reminds labor and education activists that King’s dream for economic and social justice is still relevant today. Americans suffer divisions and inequity. We know the road to better opportunity runs right through our public schools, and we must stand strong for our students and for great public schools to help close those divides.

As when King marched on Washington, our nation today is desperate for good jobs. Legal barriers to freedom have been removed, but Americans cannot pursue their dreams without jobs. NEA members are continuing their call to Congress and the President to work together and help put Americans back to work.

Five years after his “I Have a Dream” speech, addressing striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., King proclaimed, “…let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

King saw the sanitation workers’ strike as part of the overall struggle for civil rights. NEA has a history steeped in a dedication to civil and human rights, and NEA is honored to support the memorial.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, in a column honoring King’s support for the striking sanitation workers, spoke about King’s evolution: “He realized that removing legal barriers alone would not bring about equal opportunity and economic justice for African-Americans. He recognized that workers of all races − including public employees like the Memphis sanitation workers − would have to use their collective strength to win a fair deal for themselves and their families.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial features a 30-foot granite sculpture of King, a 450-foot wall engraved with many of his quotes and the use of water, stone and trees to convey four “fundamental and recurring themes in King’s life – democracy, justice, hope, and love.”

Interested in helping your students learn more about the legacy of King, especially his role in the Civil Rights Movement? Head to’s Martin Luther King Jr. resources area.

Photo: Jason Rosenberg

Reader Comments

  1. We must stay active in our unions and continue the fight. We must educate the young teachers about our union history so they understand that the benefits they have and our working conditions were negotiated and fought for over a long period of time to raise the status of our profession. NEA and its state affiliates ARE the voice of public education. It is the teachers who ARE the watchdogs for equal opportunity in education; programs that benefit special needs students, small class size, breakfast and after school programs, and many other programs that exist in our schools that benefit children, families, and communities. So teachers, pay the union dues, get involved in you locals and have a voice. In Wisconsin we have learned how easily and swiftly changes can be made and lies can be told enough times where the public starts to believe them. There was a time when,that if women were pregnant they had to leave the classroom.There were 50 teacher strikes throughout our state between 1969 and 1974. Collective bargaining has made our schools run smoothly without interruption where teachers could focus on teaching. School performance has improved over the years because of this and Wisconsin ACT scores are 3rd in the nation. Teachers are committed to teaching our children every day, they hold degrees in education and are specialists in knowing how children learn.They are heroes and it is time to raise them up!

  2. Teachers, I know you all don’t have time for politricks…but wall street and corporate giants are waging war on our profession to line their pockets with federal monies..please be inform and vote in local/state elections..friends, relatives, bring them screaming if necessary…or the choice is loose our status as a profession ….

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