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Anniversary of King Death Draws Marchers to Murder Site

April 5, 1985

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ About 400 people marched six blocks from a church to the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 17 years ago and an NAACP official urged them to fight the ″great erosion″ in civil rights.

″This is just as sacred to us as Good Friday is to everybody else,″ said Rosetta Harris, a dietary aide at a Memphis hospital, who participated Thursday in the march to the Lorraine Motel organized by Local 1733 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

King was shot to death at the motel April 4, 1968, while in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers represented by the AFSCME local.

″He was nice and I liked him,″ said Gina Duckworth, a 10-year-old grammar school student who carried a 5-foot stick topped with a weathered church fan adorned with King’s picture.

Calling King ″the greatest hero America has ever known,″ Maxine Smith, executive secretary of the NAACP in Memphis, urged the marchers to rededicate their lives to the struggle for civil rights.

″There has been great erosion in those things for which Martin Luther King was born, struggled, lived and died. We must be determined that we will not desecrate his grave with indifference,″ Mrs. Smith said from the chipped concrete balcony where the civil rights leader was slain.

Mrs. Smith and other speakers criticized President Reagan’s attempts to cut federal spending on social programs.

″We put an evil man in the White House in November, a man who is more concerned about destroying this world 10 times over than with feeding the hungry babies of this land,″ she said.

Marchers, carrying signs asking for more jobs and decrying South Africa’s policy of racial separation, apartheid, filled the parking lot of the 32-room motel.

A four-foot stone monument marks the room King occupied the day he died and the balcony is enclosed by sliding glass doors and windows. The motel, in poor repair, is still open.

Gerald McEntee, national president of AFSCME, told the marchers Reagan’s election last year ″was only a battle in a war.″

″If Dr. King were here today, he would say to put November behind us and dream and work for tomorrow,″ McEntee said.

He said this year’s march was dedicated to the struggle for racial equality in South Africa.

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