The Promised Land
Dr. King is preparing for the Poor People's Campaign in Washington when the garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee, go on strike. The black workers strike because they were sent home one day when it rained. The white garbage workers weren't sent home. When the rain stopped, the whites went back to work and were paid a full day's wages; but the blacks, because they had been sent home, were paid for only a few hours. So the blacks strike for fair and equal treatment. Dr. King agrees to march on their behalf. That march has hardly begun when teenagers begin smashing windows and looting stores. King is furious. He believes in nonviolent resistance. He leaves the march. But the uproar isn't over. By the time it is, 155 stores are damaged, sixty people hurt, and a sixteen-year old boy has been killed by police gunfire. King feels sick that a boy has died. In a discouraged moment he says: "It may be that those of us who believe in nonviolence should just step aside and let the violent forces run their course, which will be very brief, because you can't conduct a violent campaign in this country."
But King can't step aside. He decides he has to lead a peaceful march in Memphis. Some of Dr. King's aides don't agree. They think Memphis is too dangerous. Dr. King is receiving death threats in the mail. But he is determined to go back. The night before his trip, King turns on the television. President Johnson is making an announcement. The North Vietnamese's Tet offensive earlier in the year has made it clear to the President that Americans cannot win the war. Johnson says he is cutting back on the bombing of Vietnam and will try to get a settlement of the war. Then he stuns the nation. He says, "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president."