Expunged from History: Poor People’s Campaign

In November 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. announced his last campaign.

He was tired and depressed, but he felt he had one more obligation: to fight against economic inequality and poverty. He called it the “Poor People’s Campaign.”  

Earlier that year, King had come to two conclusions. One, he couldn’t justify sending millions of dollars to kill the North Vietnamese when so many people in his own country needed that money. Two, African Americans would remain second-class citizens if they didn’t have the same economic opportunities as their white brethren.

King told the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that he wanted, once again, to march on Washington. He wanted the government to create more jobs, pay more unemployment insurance, raise the minimum wage, and improve education for the poor. His motive was “as pure as a man needing an income to support his family.”

The campaign lasted five months, until King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. He was in Memphis that day to lead a labor strike by sanitation workers.

“It didn’t cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters,” King said during the campaign, “but now we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.”

Glenn Beck says he wants to “reclaim” King’s movement. “Political language,” George Orwell reminds us, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” What Beck really meant was “reverse.”