Capturing the Poor People's Campaign

Jill Freedman, who quit her job to join the Poor People's Campaign, recalls what she saw with her camera. hide caption

Documenting Resurrection City
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Jill Freedman

Photographer Jill Freedman. Bilal Qureshi, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Bilal Qureshi, NPR

Photographer Jill Freedman learned of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination while sitting in a fish and chip shop near her apartment in New York's West Village. She was so shocked and angered by his death, she quit her job and joined King's final act of protest: the 1968 Poor People's Campaign.

King and other civil rights leaders had intended the demonstration to be a weeklong march through Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to pass anti-poverty legislation to help the poor find work, health care and housing.

Protesters began with a march on May 12, 1968, and ultimately endured weeks of rain and mud living in makeshift shacks and tents on the National Mall. Before his assassination, King had expanded his civil rights platform to include economic equality. Freedman says the Poor People's Campaign was to show the nation "here's poor people — black, white, Indian. You can't ignore us. You can't read your paper past us on the train. Here we are."

Freedman spent her days photographing those who demonstrated and lived in the encampment, known as Resurrection City. The powerful images she created became the basis of her first book, Old News: Resurrection City, which was published in 1970. As she reflects on the experience today, she says she recognizes the movement's naivete and idealism.

Yet, she says, her days living in Resurrection City taught her that "it's important to stand up, win or lose. It's important to be counted."

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