Standing With Dr. King in Memphis

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., i i

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968. AFSCME hide caption

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Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn.,

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968.

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Read King's Speech

Taylor and Bessie Rogers, who still live in Memphis, visited a StoryCorps mobile booth.

Taylor and Bessie Rogers, who still live in Memphis, visited a StoryCorps mobile booth to discuss Martin Luther King Jr. StoryCorps hide caption

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In 1968, 1,300 sanitation workers, most of whom were black, went on strike in Memphis, Tenn., protesting horrendous working conditions and low wages. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis to lend his support to the striking workers.

Taylor Rogers, one of the men on strike, went to the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, with his wife, Bessie, to hear King speak. What they heard is now known as the "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech — the last the civil rights leader would deliver.

As Rogers, now 79, recalled with his wife recently, "You just really can't describe it. He stopped everything, put everything aside to come to Memphis to see about the people on the bottom of the ladder, the sanitation workers."

"After his death, we marched. You couldn't hear a sound. You couldn't hear nothin' but leather against pavement," Rogers says, comparing the loss to what he would feel in losing a family member. "But we survived and with God's help, we came through."

The StoryCorps project records oral histories all around the country. Each interview is archived at the Library of Congress — and a selected excerpt airs on Morning Edition every Friday.

Note: The music heard at the end of the Rogers' conversation is "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," a favorite of Martin Luther King's, performed by Mahalia Jackson.

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