Jean Stallings

  The National Welfare Rights Organization marching to end hunger as part of the Poor People’s Campaign, 1968 ©Jack Rottier photograph collection, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

When

1960s

Where

Memphis, Tennesse

Context

Assassination of Martin Luther King

It’s so important to feel part of something. It doesn’t have to be big – you don’t have to be famous. You just have to give a part of yourself, and have a voice for change. I wasn’t a leader but a little seed – I had a voice

Jean Stallings was a young mother in the early 1960s. She joined the National Welfare Rights Organisation (NWRO) which fought for the right to a decent standard of living. ‘The meetings gave us a sense of safety. I felt so good there.’ Their aims fitted with Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, insisting that economic and civil rights went hand in hand.

On April 3rd 1968, Martin Luther King arrived in Memphis to lead a march in support of the sanitation workers’ strike. He spoke that evening, giving what many say was his most powerful speech:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!

Martin Luther King JR

On April 4th, he was assassinated. Standing on the balcony of his room at The Lorraine Motel, Dr King leaned over the balcony to greet supporters and was shot by a sniper’s bullet. He was 39 years old.

I hurt so much but I was so grateful and felt blessed that I met him, and you know we at NWRO, like many organisations, felt we had to hold his dream close to our hearts. We carried it on in different ways till this day.

Jean Stallings

You can hear Journey to Justice patron Jean Stallings interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour in October 2018:

Some people remained determined to continue King’s non-violent tactics while others called for a more forceful response. The Black Power movement, with its emphasis on pride in black identity, culture and politics, strengthened. Rejuvenated liberation movements began to appear on the American – and global – landscapes, including those for women and LGBT people. But true freedom and equality have still not been achieved in the USA:

Everything has changed and nothing has changed

Gary Younge, writer and journalist

The civil rights movement remains a universal symbol for those who struggle for human rights on every continent.