Nightly News   |  April 04, 2013

Sanitation strikers recall MLK’s death

It’s been 45 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was killed after coming to Memphis, Tenn., to support the sanitation workers’ strike. Two of the men who demonstrated in the streets that day spoke with NBC’s Ann Curry about their fight to make a better community for their families.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> 45 years ago tonight the reverend dr. martin luther king , jr., was assassinated. a previously unpublished life magazine photo shows his open briefcase as he left it in his motel room that day. so many people were with forever changed by that visit to memphis memphis . she w he was there, after all, to support striking sanitation bourqu workers.

>> reporter: memphis , the spring of 1968 . 1300 sanitation workers on strike against unsafe working conditions . the reverend martin luther king , jr., standing with them.

>> memphis has gotten by for a long time with numerous injustices where black people are concerned.

>> reporter: king's own advisers urged him to skip memphis , fearing violence. and there was. alvin turner, now 79, was there.

>> reporter: he took that and he popped me right there. cleo smith was 72.

>> people getting beated.

>> reporter: turner says the b job paid just 70 cents an hour, but that wasn't the worst of it.

>> i had been treated like a boy for so long.

>> boy, get over there and do that. i was proud, too. i'm a man.

>> reporter: the message was, i'm nobody's boy.

>> i'm nobody's boy.

>> reporter: i'm a man.

>> i'm a man.

>> reporter: a man, thinking about his children.

>> i had to fight to try to make a better community for those little girls.

>> reporter: they faced overwhelming odds.

>> there was a voice that kept saying, hold on. it was going to get better.

>> reporter: they were both here when dr. king gave his last speech.

>> because i've been to the mountaintop.

>> he went on saying i might not get there with you.

>> but i want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land .

>> reporter: the next day, dr. king was killed. martin luther king , iii, on the balcony where his father died, remembers coming to memphis with his mother.

>> emotionally it's challenging because, you know, again i was 10 years old.

>> reporter: days later the strike was settled and the sanitation workers' favor. you're still working as a sanitation worker?

>> still working, enjoying every minute of it.

>> reporter: alvin turner, now retired, still has his scar.

>> every once in a while , i'll feel it. i look at my kids. i feel that it will work.

>> reporter: his four children now grown, all college educated. his dream fulfilled. ann curry , nbc news,