The Government Couldn’t Destroy The Spirit Of The Poor People’s Campaign

Poor People's March/Warren K. Leffler/Wikimedia/fair use

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The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were wins for the Civil Rights Movement, but there was still work to be done. Leaders had their eyes on a goal that would potentially unite the majority of America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and leaders of the movement turned their focus to the poor, planning the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign’s focus was on bringing legislation that would give decent jobs and healthcare to the poor.

Thousands planned to march to the U.S. Capital and protest until there was a change in legislation.

But, three weeks before the scheduled march, Martin Luther King was assassinated.

His untimely death threatened to throw a wrench in the campaign, but the leaders were determined. They continued on.

Over 50,000 people marched to Washington D.C., protesting with the hopes of getting Congress to listen to them. The demanded $30 million against poverty, employment, guaranteed income and affordable housing.

And they meant business.

They camped out on the National Mall for six weeks, calling their settlement ‘Resurrection City.’ They appointed Jesse Jackson as their mayor.

The conditions in the settlement were rough. It rained often, making the ground muddy and at times, flooding the camp. Still mourning MLK’s death, they experienced another loss: Robert Kennedy, an active supporter of the movement. Protesters grew weary.

Jesse Jackson gave his “I Am Somebody” speech to increase morale, but it wasn’t enough.

Feeling defeated, protesters went home.

Many considered the campaign to be a failure, but Joseph Lowry thought otherwise.

“The nation became conscious of the fact that it had an expanding poor population,” he said.

While true, not much changed. However, in 2017, Rev. William Barber II has made it his mission to revive the campaign. He’s planned non-violent protests in 25 states and the Capital, following the same zeal of protesters from 50 years ago.

To learn more about the Poor People’s Campaign, check out the book “The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King Jr, The FBI, and the Poor People’s Campaign.”


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