April 4 marks the somber anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Too often, sadly, Dr. King is remembered more for his famous “Mountaintop” speech than the cause he died for. Forty-three years ago next week, Dr. King stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,375 Black Memphis sanitation workers and with the African-American community that overwhelmingly supported their strike for dignity.

Their demand went far beyond higher pay and better working conditions. It rested on the right to be treated with dignity by negotiating collectively with their boss – the White mayor of Memphis. Their fight for respect was captured in the defiant slogan “I AM A MAN.”

Forty-three years after the tumultuous events in Memphis, it seems like we have forgotten our history. The job benefits many of us take for granted – sick leave, vacation time, and health insurance – had to be demanded and fought for. Today, as we see in Wisconsin, Ohio and across the nation, the fight is still on.

So, I’ve asked myself, “What would Dr. King say today about another struggle between a powerful, untrustworthy employer, Wal-Mart, and communities that demand tangible benefits beyond convenient shopping and low-wage jobs?” I believe Dr. King would say the campaign here in Washington to hold Wal-Mart accountable is just. Surely, the largest retailer in the world, with annual profits of $13 billion, has the capacity to pay its employees a living wage to raise their families in a decent fashion. But while Wal-Mart has changed the face of retail across the globe, the company also has set a standard of low wages, of shortchanging working people, and of not keeping its word.

Last year when Wal-Mart opened two stores in Chicago, the company publicly reneged on two issues that were key to securing city approval: wages and union labor. A {Business Week} article (June 24, 2010) showed that immediately after receiving the City Council’s approval in exchange for agreeing to pay starting wages of $8.75 per hour with a 40-cent pay raise after one year employment, Wal-Mart representatives claimed that no deals had been made and wages would be “based on performance.” I believe Dr. King would call on Wal-Mart to do better… to take the high road, not the low road.

I strongly believe it would be unwise for our elected leaders, community groups and residents to welcome Wal-Mart to Washington unconditionally. That’s why I have joined other people of faith calling for accountable economic development with enforceable community benefits if Wal-Mart comes to our nation’s capital. Why?

Because the harsh truth about Wal-Mart’s impact often belies its lofty promises. Its well-documented track record of paying poverty-level wages, driving out existing neighborhood businesses and shifting its health care bill to taxpayers suggests that this global retailer will not address such injustices unless compelled to do so.

I am not unmindful of the desperate situation of many of our families and neighborhoods, where jobs, retail options and hope are vanishing. But I am reminded of the situation faced by the Memphis sanitation workers, who – though already poor – stayed out on strike even when they could have settled for higher wages and better working conditions. They held out for the dignity of negotiating collectively with their employer.

Likewise, the Respect DC Campaign is calling for an open and transparent negotiating process to reach an enforceable agreement with Wal-Mart on community benefits. Yet, there are those who want to rush to cash in on Wal-Mart’s promises of jobs, retail and tax revenue, ignoring its lamentable track record.

But what would Dr. King say?

Dr. Earl D.Trent Jr. is pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.