Fox News Uses Anniversary Of Martin Luther King's Slaying To Misrepresent King's Views On Unions

Fox News hosts Glenn Beck and Neil Cavuto attacked unions who cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s support for labor rights on the anniversary of his assassination. In fact, King was shot while in Memphis to support striking municipal workers, and that was just one example of King's support for organized labor.

Fox News Hosts Blast Unions For Citing King's Legacy In Protests On Anniversary Of King's Assassination

Beck: It's “Absurd” To Say King Died While Fighting For Labor Rights. On the April 4 edition of his Fox News show, Beck acknowledged that King died while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, but then said:

BECK: He gave his life fighting for civil rights, the right for all men to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of the skin or their union label. Is there a person within the sound of my voice, outside the union halls, that I could ask and say, “Why did someone kill Martin Luther King, why?” And they would say, “Wow, good thing you AFSCME” collective bargaining rights, of course. That's absurd. Is there one person besides Richard Trumpka that could actually answer that other than AFSCME? [Fox News, Glenn Beck, 4/4/11]

Cavuto Hosts Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson To Denounce Union Protest On King Anniversary. On Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto questioned the union protest on the anniversary of King's assassination, saying that “many” saw the rallies as “over the top.” Furthermore, Cavuto hosted Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, who claimed that progressives' citation of King's legacy is “nothing less than evil.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/4/11]

Beck And Cavuto Have History Of Slanting King's Stance On Labor Rights

Beck: “Dr. King Lost His Life For Collective Bargaining For The Public Unions, Really?” From the March 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:

GLENN BECK: Madison is just the beginning, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka told a union rally in Annapolis on Monday. Madison is just the beginning; you ain't seen nothing yet, he says. The message? Angry schoolteachers and the unions are the same. Join us April 4th, 2011, a day to stand in solidarity with working people of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and a dozen other states, where well-funded right-wing corporate politicians are trying to take away the rights that Dr. King gave his life for.

Wait, wait, hold it, just a second. Dr. King lost his life for collective bargaining for the public unions, really? Did you know that? 'Cause -- that -- we have to update our history books, because I didn't know that. Did you know that?

PAT GRAY (co-host): I personally didn't. (Laughs)

BECK: Thank you for that.

GRAY: I didn't know that. I - I was - I'm a little confused, I guess, 'cause, yeah, I thought it had something to do with civil rights, but it was a union deal?

BECK: It was a union deal. Yeah.

STU BURGUIERE (executive producer): Well, there was the content of the character and the collectiveness of the bargaining was the --

GRAY: Ahh, that's right. How did I miss that?

BECK: Well, to make the point - here's the deal -- April 4th is the 43rd anniversary of the day Martin Luther King was assassinated after speaking on behalf of the striking black garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee. So, I'm sure that the fact that they were black and in Memphis had nothing to do with his mention -- with his, uh, message. It was all about unions and collective bargaining. I'm sure that's what it was.

GRAY: You know it was.

BECK: Well, of course.

[Premiere Radio Networks, The Glenn Beck Program, 3/21/11]

Cavuto Claims It “Gets A Little Weird” To Invoke King In The Context Of Supporting Unions. While discussing plans by unions to commemorate King's assassination, Cavuto and Tea Party supporter Lisa Fritsch had the following exchange:

LISA FRITSCH (Tea Party supporter): We just want to say the American taxpayers don't want to support you any longer. What's wrong with you sacrificing, contributing to your own lifestyle. How is that demanding too much of you, or taking away from your civil rights?

CAVUTO: What are you gonna do? Argue over particulars, your right, but I think to throw Martin Luther King into the mix then it gets a little weird. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 3/18/11]

King Repeatedly Fought For Unions and Unionized Workers

King Spoke On Behalf Of Memphis “Public Servants” In His Final Speech. From King's “I've Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered the day before his assassination:

The issues is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on that. That's always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn't get around to that.

Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: we know it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. [Martin Luther King speech via American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 4/3/68]

King Was Assassinated While In Memphis To Support Public Sanitation Workers. From Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute:

King had arrived in Tennessee on Wednesday, 3 April to prepare for a march the following Monday on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. As he prepared to leave the Lorraine Motel for a dinner at the home of Memphis minister Samuel ''Billy'' Kyles, King stepped out onto the balcony of room 306 to speak with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) colleagues standing in the parking area below. An assassin fired a single shot that caused severe wounds to the lower right side of his face. SCLC aides rushed to him, and Ralph Abernathy cradled King's head. Others on the balcony pointed across the street toward the rear of a boarding house on South Main Street where the shot seemed to have originated. An ambulance rushed King to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead at 7:05 P.M.


On 8 April King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and other family members joined thousands of participants in a march in Memphis honoring King and supporting the sanitation workers. [Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, accessed 4/5/11]

Memphis Workers Were Fighting For Recognition Of Their Union And Better Wages. From Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute:

On 1 February 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city's response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. Sanitation workers, led by garbage-collector-turned-union-organizer, T. O. Jones, and supported by the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Jerry Wurf, demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage.

The union, which had been granted a charter by AFSCME in 1964, had attempted a strike in 1966, but it failed, in large part because workers were unable to arouse the support of Memphis's religious community or middle class. Conditions for black sanitation workers worsened when Henry Loeb became mayor in January 1968. Loeb refused to take dilapidated trucks out of service or pay overtime when men were forced to work late-night shifts. Sanitation workers earned wages so low that many were on welfare and hundreds relied on food stamps to feed their families. [Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, accessed 4/5/11, emphasis added]

Benjamin Mays' Eulogy: King Would Find “No Greater Cause To Die For Than Fighting To Get A Just Wage For Garbage Collectors.” Delivering a eulogy honoring King, Benjamin Mays, a mentor to and friend of King, and then president of Morehouse College, said:

Though deeply committed to a program of freedom for Negroes, he had love and concern for all kinds of peoples. He drew no distinction between the high and low; none between the rich and the poor. He believed especially that he was sent to champion the cause of the man farthest down. He would probably say that if death had to come, I am sure there was no greater cause to die for than fighting to get a just wage for garbage collectors. [Benjamin Mays' eulogy for Martin Luther King via Bates College, 4/9/68]

King Often Spoke Out In Support Of The Labor Movement

  • King: “The Labor Movement Was The Principal Force That Transformed Misery And Despair Into Hope And Progress.” From a speech King delivered to the Illinois AFL-CIO:

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. [Speech to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO via American Federation of Teachers, 10/7/65]

  • King: “Negroes In The United States Read The History Of Labor And Find It Mirrors Their Own Experience.” From a speech King delivered to the AFL-CIO:

Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted. They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and protests are becoming our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table.

We want to rely upon the goodwill of those who oppose us. Indeed, we have brought forward the method of nonviolence to give an example of unilateral goodwill in an effort to evoke it in those who have not yet felt it in their hearts. But we know that if we are not simultaneously organizing our strength we will have no means to move forward. If we do not advance, the crushing burden of centuries of neglect and economic deprivation will destroy our will, our spirits and our hope. In this way, labor's historic tradition of moving forward to create vital people as consumers and citizens has become our own tradition, and for the same reasons. [Speech to the AFL-CIO via American Federation of Teachers, 12/11/61]

  • King Spoke Out Against So-Called “Right-To-Work Laws” As A Proposal “To Rob Us Of Our Civil Rights And Job Rights” By Destroying Labor Unions. From remarks delivered by King on “right-to-work laws” in 1961:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone...Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote. [Speech on right-to-work laws via American Federation of Teachers, 1961]

King Espoused Many Views That Beck Now Demonizes

Many Of Beck's Views Are The Antithesis Of What King Espoused. As Media Matters has documented, King believed the government had a role to play in lifting people out of poverty, that society should fight for “economic justice,” that there should be a “guaranteed annual income,” and that the nation should strive for “social justice.” Beck, on the other hand, has demonized each of these positions. [Media Matters, 8/25/10]