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Labor Movement


Martin Luther King, Jr., made history, but he was also transformed by his deep family roots in the African-American Baptist church, his formative experiences in his hometown of Atlanta, his theological studies, his varied models of religious and political leadership, and his extensive network of contacts in the peace and social justice movements of his time. Although King was only 39 at the time of his death, his life was remarkable for the ways it reflected and inspired so many of the twentieth century’s major intellectual, cultural, and political developments.

King delivers "The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness" at National Urban League conference; receives contribution for SCLC

King delivers “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness” at the Golden Anniversary Conference of the National Urban League at Community Church of New York. Following his address, executives of the Harlem Labor Union present King with a $1,250 contribution for SCLC.

Wurf, Jerome

As president of the nation’s largest union of public employees—the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)—Jerome Wurf provided the support of his union to various civil rights causes, including the October 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools, an event co-chaired by Martin Luther King. In a 4 December 1958 letter to Wurf, King expressed his gratitude: “The support given to the Youth March by Local 420 and the other local unions of District Council 37, and their success in achieving such wide participation by their members and the children of their members, offers eloquent testimony to the fact of their devotion to the cause of human freedom and the brotherhood of man” (Papers 4:544).

United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA)

An early supporter of the Montgomery bus boycott, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) raised funds for civil rights groups and participated in civil rights campaigns throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. At the 1962 UPWA Annual Convention, King told union members, “If labor as a whole, if the administration in Washington matched your concern and your deeds, the civil rights problem would not be a burning national issue, but a problem long solved, and in its solution a luminous accomplishment in the best tradition of American principles” (King, 21 May 1962).


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