Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr. shared the idea of the “Poor Peoples Campaign” at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff retreat in 1967. The campaign was to be a “middle ground” between violence and non-violence. The campaign would be launched with an initial group of 2,000 people who would travel to Washington DC, southern states, and northern states to advocate with government officials for jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage and education for the poor.
Dr. King got the idea for the campaign from Marion Wright, who at the time was the director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Jackson, MS. King saw the campaign as a way to further the struggle for real equality. In addition to voting and civil rights, King believed that forging a path to economic security was also essential. The target of the campaign, then, would be to focus the nation’s attention on the economic disenfranchisement of poor people of color. The campaign included African American, American Indian, Puerto Rican, Mexican American and poor white communities who pledged to support the Poor People’s Campaign.
There were some people in the SCLC who felt that the campaign was too ambitious and different from the work the group had undertaken in the past. They questioned King’s direction but ultimately moved forward with the planning. However, King himself would not live to see the campaign efforts come to fruition due to his assassination in April 1968. After his murder, Ralph Abernathy became SCLC’s new president and took over organizing the campaign. On Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968, thousands of women assembled and formed the first wave of demonstrators. They were led by Coretta Scott King. The next day, “Resurrection City” was erected on the mall in Washington. It was a temporary settlement of tents and shacks where the demonstrators took up residence. The demonstrators stayed on the mall for over a month. During their time in Washington, they would visit legislators and government officials on a daily basis to protest and demand economic justice. The Department of the Interior shut down Resurrection City on June 24, 1968 after SCLC’s permit to use the park expired.