50 Years Later, MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign is Back — and More Needed Than Ever

Written by on April 21, 2018 in News Flash with 0 Comments

The Rev. William J. Barber II and Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis (not pictured) have picked up where Dr. Martin Luther King left off with their Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival
Image: D.L. Anderson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

By Heather Dockray | Mashable

At the time of his death, however, Reverend King was doing more than crafting inspirational phrases. He was laying the groundwork for his Poor People’s Campaign, a intersectional movement dedicated to eliminating poverty in America, the richest nation on earth.

As part of the campaign, King helped to organize a 3,000 person protest camp on the Washington mall for six weeks. After King’s death, the movement tragically lost most of its momentum. Fifty years later, Reverend Dr. William Barber II and Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis have resurrected his movement, with chapters in 40 states, all of them guided by the same mission: challenging the country’s “distorted morality” and replacing it with something just.

It’s hard to overstate just how radical King’s Poor People campaign was. At the time of its inception, the term intersectionality didn’t exist, and the civil rights struggle for African-Americans and economic justice for low-income whites were seen in opposition to one another. (The latter, of course, is still true today.) King was reportedly moved to tears in 1967 after traveling to Marks, Mississippi, and seeing some of the nation’s most impoverished people — children whose parents were too poor to give them a blanket, and a Head Start teacher forced to cut an apple into four quarters and feed them to her hungriest students.

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age,” King said in his 1967 book, Where do we go here: Chaos or Community? “It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

King sought to organize a Poor People’s campaign led by the country’s poorest and most disenfranchised. He demanded an “economic bill of rights” that included a guaranteed basic income, full employment, and more low-income housing. After the campaign presented their demands to Congress, King organized “Resurrection City,” the protest camp where participants stayed for six weeks in 1968.


Fast forward 50 years and precious little of King’s vision for economic justice has been achieved in America. In the richest, most developed nation on earth, 17.2 percent of the population lives in poverty and 21 percent of all children live in poverty, with disproportionately higher rates for Black and Latino children. The United States ranks 18th among the top 21 most developed countries in terms of poverty, inequality, and economic mobility. It is 23rd in income inequality, lagging behind Turkey and Slovakia.

When political candidates on the left and right do talk about inequality, their language tends to center around “middle class jobs” or “working families.” The word poverty is almost always left out of the equation — as if it no longer exists, or the people who suffer from it don’t really matter.

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