MLK's vision matters today for the 43 million Americans living in poverty
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, while fighting for a 10-cent wage increase for garbage workers. These efforts by King were part of a broader and more sustained initiative known as the Poor People’s Campaign.
King was working to broaden the scope of the civil rights movement to include poverty and the end of the war in Vietnam. King and his leadership team planned to bring thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., where they would camp out on the National Mall until Congress passed legislation to eradicate poverty.
King was convinced that for the civil rights movement to achieve its goals, poverty needed to become a central focus of the movement. He believed the poor could lead a movement that would revolutionize society and end poverty. As King noted, “The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have little, or nothing to lose.”
With over 43 million people living in poverty in the United States today, King’s ideas still hold much power.
The Poor People’s Campaign
In the last three years of his life and ministry King had grown frustrated with the slow pace of reform and the lack of funding for anti-poverty programs. In 1966, for example, King moved to Chicago and lived in an urban slum to bring attention to the plight of the urban poor in northern cities. His experiences in the South had convinced him that elimination of poverty was important to winning the long-term battle for civil and social rights.
It was also at this time that King began to think about leading a march to Washington, D.C., to end poverty. King explained the campaign saying,:
“Then we poor people will move on Washington, determined to stay there until the legislative and executive branches of the government take serious and adequate action on jobs and income.”
King was assassinated before he could lead the campaign. And while the effort continued, the campaign could not meet King’s goals of poverty elimination, universal access to health care and education, and a guaranteed income that would keep people out of poverty.Read more