Poverty, Martin Luther King's Last Cause

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall is being dedicated Sunday in Washington. Host Audie Cornish reflects on some of King's final words about economic injustice in America.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, on the National Mall, is being dedicated today in Washington. In August, Hurricane Irene forced a delay of the dedication. The ceremony was originally scheduled to coincide with the 48th anniversary of King's famous "I Have A Dream" Speech. Well, Dr. King is best-known for championing civil rights. Toward the end of his life, he focused his attention on fighting poverty.

In 1967, he laid the groundwork for what would become known as the Poor People's Campaign. Later that year, he hinted at the difficulties to come with that anti-poverty effort when he spoke at the Victory Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: It's much easier to integrate a bus than it is to eradicate slums. It is much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee an annual income. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to create jobs. And the things that we are calling for now will mean that the nation will have to spend billions of dollars in order to solve these problems.

CORNISH: In the year that followed, King continued to press his case that economic inequality would be the next great civil rights battle - as with this speech, his last Sunday sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING: If a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty, and the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists. We're coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we're coming to engage in dramatic, nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment, to make the invisible visible.

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