Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified the fight for justice, dignity, and equality. This Monday, January 15th, we officially memorialize his life and legacy in the civil rights and labor movements.
King was born on January 15, 1929. As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), he became the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. He led the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.
What many don't know is, under the leadership of Harry Van Arsdale Jr., both Local 3 and the NYC Central Labor Council formed a deep connection with Martin Luther King Jr. and the campaigns he led. When King and others were arrested for a sit-in at lunch counters in Atlanta, Georgia in October 1960, Van Arsdale wrote a letter in solidarity on behalf of the CLC and its 1 million affiliated members, who voted to send $1,000 in monetary support as well. A year later, King addressed the first meeting of the Brotherhood Party, organized by Van Arsdale, at the Hotel Commodore in Manhattan. For the historic March on Washington in August 1963, Local 3 Fixture Division member Leroy Tempro was the labor coordinator, bringing more than 400 members of Local 3 and 50,000 trade unionists to the nation's capital. And in 1965, at the invitation of King himself, Van Arsdale and CLC Secretary Morris Iushewitz went to Selma to lend their support to the movement for voting rights, which culminated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Martin Luther King Jr., NYC Central Labor Council Treasurer William Bowe (middle), and Harry Van Arsdale Jr.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39 years old. At the time, he was in Memphis supporting African-American sanitation workers on strike during a citywide labor dispute over the right to organize a union and improve their working conditions.
In his honor, we observe Martin Luther King Day every year on the third Monday of January.
Watch this video for a look at Local 3’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement through the years.
For more details on Local 3's participation in the 1963 March on Washington, read the 60th anniversary retrospective published in the October 2023 issue of the Union World newspaper.
King and Van Arsdale are pictured here together attending the first meeting of the Brotherhood Party at the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan, October 1961.
At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th, 1963, left to right: David Sullivan, International President of the Building Service Employees Union (now the SEIU); William Bowe; and Harry Van Arsdale Jr.
Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Van Arsdale Jr., and Bayard Rustin.