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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As we head into this long weekend marking the birthday of Martin Luther King, we're going to meet a man who saw him at the end of his life. In 1968, 1,300 sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. Most of the workers were black. They were protesting job conditions and low wages. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to lend his support to the striking workers. One of them was Taylor Rogers. Recently Rogers told his story through StoryCorps. That's the ongoing effort to record and preserve an oral history of America through the stories of everyday people. Rogers and his wife Bessie visited a StoryCorps booth in Memphis to talk about the strike and Dr. King's visit. The Rogerses were both at Mason Temple on April 3rd, 1968, when Martin Luther King delivered what would prove to be his final speech.

Mr. TAYLOR ROGERS (Present at Martin Luther King's Final Speech): I mean, it was wall to wall with people.

Mrs. BESSIE ROGERS (Present at Martin Luther King's Final Speech): And it was storming and raining. He preached and he said that...

Mr. ROGERS: `I've been to the mountaintop.'

Mrs. ROGERS: Oh, yes.

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr. (Civil Rights Leader): Because I've been to the mountaintop.

Mr. ROGERS: And I looked over and I seen the Promised Land.

Dr. KING: And I've looked over...

(Soundbite of audience approval)

Dr. KING: ...and I've seen the Promised Land.

Mr. ROGERS: I might not get there with you...

Dr. KING: I may not get there with you...

Mr. ROGERS: ...but we will get there.

Dr. KING: ...but I want you to know tonight...

Audience Members: Yes! Yeah!

Dr. KING: ...that we as a people will get to the Promised Land!

(Soundbite of audience approval)

Mrs. ROGERS: And he was crying. Tears were rolling down his cheek.

Mr. ROGERS: Preacher was crying, people were crying, and everybody was crying and...

Mrs. ROGERS: He really talked that night. I mean, he really, really talked.

Mr. ROGERS: You could tell by the expression on his face and the feeling and the sound of his voice that he knew something was going to happen. He said, `Because I'm not fearing any man.'

Dr. KING: I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

(Soundbite of audience approval)

Mrs. ROGERS: Next day he was killed.

Mr. ROGERS: You know, it was kind of like you lost a part of your family. 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 nothing but leather against pavement. It was just some terrible days back then, but with God's help we came through. And it means something to know that you was a part of this.

INSKEEP: Taylor Rogers and his wife Bessie remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike.

StoryCorps has two mobile recording booths touring the country. If you'd like to find out how you can participate and have your interview archived at the Library of Congress, you can go to npr.org.

(Announcement)

(Soundbite of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand")

Ms. MAHALIA JACKSON (Gospel Vocalist): (Singing) Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on. Let me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. Through the storm...

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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