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On MLK Day, a Celebration of King's Economic-Justice Legacy

The theme for this year's MLK Day march in Seattle is "Stop the hate: Come together." (Washington State Federation of Employees)
The theme for this year's MLK Day march in Seattle is "Stop the hate: Come together." (Washington State Federation of Employees)
January 16, 2017

SEATTLE — Today, Americans celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with marches in Washington state and across the country.

A hero of the civil-rights movement, King is also remembered for his work on the cause of economic justice. His presence at labor marches often is overshadowed by his role in marches in Selma and Washington D.C. But, his commitment to economic rights was no less important.

Kevin Allen, who works for the state of Washington and is a member of AFSCME, said that unions gave African-Americans some of their first opportunities as free laborers in this country. King understood this and the power of organized labor and collective action.

"Dr. King recognized that the work of civil rights and economic rights and workers' rights were connected,” Allen said. "They were all part of the rights of humans to live in dignity, to be able to have a living wage."

King frequently was involved with AFSCME strikes and rallies. He was assassinated in 1968 while supporting black AFSCME sanitation workers on strike in Memphis.

Marches and rallies are taking place today across the Evergreen State, including the 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Seattle.

The Seattle rally began when members of the community wanted to change the name of Empire Way to Martin Luther King Jr. Way. They succeeded and, eventually, King County was named in his honor as well.

Now the annual march and rally features speeches and workshops on everything from bullying to immigrant rights to human trafficking. Allen said it's one of the biggest and longest-running MLK Day marches in the country.

"We want to celebrate the life of Dr. King and also expound on and remind people of the values of what he lived for and ultimately died for,” he said.

Allen also noted the importance of the rally in highlighting the collective action King espoused. He said he reminds young people that if they want to change the world, they can't do it alone.

"If there's something that you feel is unjust or unfair and you want to make change, you have to get people to come together,” Allen said.

Events begin at 9:30 a.m. at Garfield High School. There will then be a march to the Jackson Federal Building downtown. After speeches, a career fair will be held at the high school from 1-4:30 p.m. This year the theme is "Stop the hate: Come together."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA