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From MLK Jr. to Black Lives Matter: America’s ‘racial reckoning’

Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In a year marred by continuing struggles for racial equality and justice, many of the issues that drove Dr. King are still prevalent today. Rev. Lawrence Turner of the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, TN joins to discuss King’s legacy and today’s fight against poverty and racial injustice.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

    King had been in Memphis advocating on the behalf of Black laborers and equal pay.

    In a year marred by continuing struggles for equality and justice, many of the issues that drew Dr. King to Memphis are still prevalent today.

    I spoke with Reverend Lawrence Turner, pastor at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis Tennessee about King's legacy and today's movement in the fight against poverty and for racial justice.

    Reverend, here we are, Easter Sunday, 53 years after the assassination, and it seems that the Civil Rights movement, the leadership of Dr. King, what he was working for, is resonating in a different way now than maybe two years ago, three years ago.

  • Rev. J. Lawrence Turner:

    Yes, we're, I think, we've come to what some have called a racial reckoning. These are things that have certainly been going on for years. This year, what makes it different is that people of all races in this country have had to stop. It's called the nation to examine its soul as to where we are as it relates to what we're trying to achieve in this democratic project we call America. And so, of course, that's sprung up from the protests that happen as a result of the murder of George Floyd and then Breonna Taylor that gain lots of interest. I am cautiously optimistic that we will move far beyond mere symbolism and begin to take some critical steps in order to heal the divide and to move forward with a sense of equality in this country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are you optimistic about? What in the last few months has given you hope?

  • Rev. J. Lawrence Turner:

    What has given me hope is that we've seen a lot more young people, Gen Z people, millennials, engaging on the front lines and it is reminiscent, although I wasn't there, of the movement of the 1950s and 60s. And so we're seeing that reemerge in 2020 and 2021. And it gives me hope that they have not gone to a place of despair and that they're committed over the long haul to continue to push for justice and equality for all people.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the things that a friend of mine pointed out to me was one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last projects was really on behalf of essential workers, an idea that has been brought into stark relief this past year.

  • Rev. J. Lawrence Turner:

    Yes. And so that's why this resurrection Sunday, this Easter, is so important. King came to Memphis fighting on behalf of essential workers. And I think it is those people who are the very salt of the earth, the people who are the backbone of our country that we have to fight on behalf of, to, on one hand, receive a sense of economic justice. I'm hoping that Congress will take back up a $15 minimum wage. But also, I think we have to go back to some of the unfinished work of the civil rights movement and that one of the things that Coretta Scott King continued even after her husband's death, was this fight for a federal job guarantee that if people across this nation, particularly in a city like Memphis, Tennessee, where so many people are in poverty, if people are ever to rise from poverty, it's not only that they're fully employed, but that they're earning a wage, that they're able to rise. And so I think that speaks largely of the continuation of King's work. But also, I think in this year, where 41 states at least have proposed or some have even passed voter suppression laws, we've got to reengage that work to make sure everybody can participate in our democracy.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    When you think about the attacks on the things that Martin Luther King Jr. worked for, voting rights, fair wages, and just justice and equality in the context of Derek Chauvin's trial that's going on right now and what we all around the world witnessed, how do you– how do you stay optimistic? Here we are, decades later, still fighting in these same ways.

  • Rev. J. Lawrence Turner:

    Yeah. So even three years ago, we may have had people who would invoke Dr. King in some way, but there has been this desire to engage in uncomfortable conversations around race that we haven't had. Now, it appears to me that even beyond the election of 2020, that this energy is still there to fight until we get some key policies passed at the federal level that will ensure that everybody can have a seat at the table and a voice that is heard when they're at the table.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Reverend Lawrence Turner from the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Rev. J. Lawrence Turner:

    Thank you for having me.

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