UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry's MLK Breakfast Keynote Address


Photo Credit: Walter Jones

Labor Breakfast – January 18, 2019

Good morning members of the Interdenominational Ministries Fellowship, Community Leaders, and to my sisters and brothers of Labor.

It is an exciting day for a young man born in 1965 to be here today to talk about “Beyond the March, a life of action.” One who walked the bridges of Selma, Alabama, sat in the Jackson, Mississippi office of Medgar Evers, enjoyed an hour of conversation with Congressman John Lewis in his DC Office, and I even enjoyed meeting living members of AFSCME from 1963.

Many of us have read the history, seen the historical footage, and enjoyed the speaking engagements of the warrior of civil rights.

We know about many efforts, but do we know about Dr. King’s vision and relationship with labor? A highlight of his life is his defense and march with members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) and their efforts in Memphis, Tennessee prior to his death by assassination!

Do you know of his relationship with A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters who actually planned the March on Washington along with Bayard Rustin?

Do you know of United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther and his relationship with Dr. King? Two men with similar visions:

⎯ Economic justice for working men and women
⎯ All men and women regardless of color should be treated equally in the
world and workplace
⎯ The right to organize a union
⎯ The right of integration in the workplace when it was unpopular with other union shops. Remember before there was an AFL-CIO, there was just an AFL and a separate CIO. That separation was always a problem for Dr. King and President Reuther who did not always agree in principle with AFL-CIO President George Meany.

As you entered today, you received two handouts with three pictures:

1) reflects the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
2) reflects Walk to Freedom as most came to know as the practice March on

During the Michigan trip and national events, the relationship with Dr. King and President Reuther grew. It was Reuther that was one of only a few labor leaders at the side of Dr. King for the Marches of Detroit, DC and even the March for the funeral services for Reverend James Reeb. As most know, he was the minister that was killed for his support of African Americans’ right to vote following the first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Reuther even provided the cash bond for Dr. King’s release from a Birmingham jail. Additionally, Dr. King was provided office space at the UAW’s Solidarity House (headquarters) in Detroit where he drafted the I Have a Dream Speech while preparing for the Walk of Freedom March.

Those are examples of a life of civil rights legacy and labor!

The visions of marches and historical legacy are clear reminders of the past, but I question you – who continues the work?

1963 – Dr. King said, “There are more negroes in jail with me than there are on the voting rolls.” It has taken Amendment 4 – Voter Restoration in Florida – 55+ years to begin to reverse that issue.

We have watched years of the past where poll taxes and the ability to read and write block efforts to vote only today to allow candidates to be elected because we failed to vote by early voting, absentee, or on Election Day because we failed to take the time.

This quote should make many here think today.

President Johnson’s high spirits were marked as he circulated among the many guests who he had invited to witness an event he confidently felt to be historic – the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “The bill lay on the polished mahogany desk was born in violence in Selma, Alabama where a stubborn sheriff. . .had stumbled against the future.”

A quote from 1965 that still resonates in 2019 with those who still teach and practice hate and division. We still have those Selma sheriffs. They are beside us in our workplace, communities, and more places only to impede the dream.

Though we have become experts in technology of computers, iPhones, Facetime and more, have we utilized those opportunities to advance the dream and the March or is it just history?

55 years ago, can you imagine Dr. King, Rev. Abernathy, and Andrew Young facetiming Rosa Parks and others in Montgomery about the bus boycott and reaching others about steps to sit-in at Woolworth counters in Nashville,Tennessee or Greensboro, North Carolina? An actual text of the exact time to take action and not risk an exchange for others to detect it by paper copies.

⎯ No. We fail to use technology and social media to advance messages of purpose, often tweeting, texting and Facebook sharing issues of hate, bullying and obscenities
⎯ We need to be stronger advocates for fairness
⎯ We need to be stronger voices for injustices to working men and women as those of the 2% control the cities and states of this country

Be that voice in an empty City Council or a voice for fair education and funding at a school board meeting or PTA.

If young children and teenagers only understand the March and Dream through history books and not the actions of their community leaders, do we advance 50+ years later? Or do you watch as history passes us by, and we fight to defend laws and bills already passed and signed into law?

I call on all of us today to select a goal or issue to advance the March by real action.

⎯ Be proud to be clergy
⎯ Be proud to be labor union members
⎯ Be proud to be a community activist

In all, do not just wear a label! Raise awareness by taking action in your church, your workplace, another’s workplace, community, city and state.

Volunteers were not paid in the past. Always remember “the ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I say in 2019, we are facing that same thing.

Dr. King was jailed, faced Bull Connor’s water hoses and dogs, marched in heat and paid the ultimate price of losing his life to an assassin’s bullet by defending working men and women as he had returned to support striking sanitation workers.

On this weekend and every day, what will our steps and actions be to build a better community and better nation? What will we sacrifice for family, community, or for a future legacy?

A message to think about and a message to remember. He gave the ultimate price, the ultimate sacrifice and for some of us, we cannot even make an effort to volunteer.

I leave you with this message of hope, a message of next steps, a message of what’s owed to another generation. A message that we too have an obligation to lead another march and effort. “The March of 1963 is all but history; the March and Efforts of 2019 are yet to begin and you hold that individual vision.”

Thank you.

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