The Poor People's Campaign Seeks To Complete Martin Luther King's Final Dream The 1968 Poor People's Campaign lasted 42 days. The new campaign vows 40 days of nonviolent direct action to focus on issues that activists say are linked to poverty, including systemic racism.
NPR logo

The Poor People's Campaign Seeks To Complete Martin Luther King's Final Dream

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610836891/611097714" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Poor People's Campaign Seeks To Complete Martin Luther King's Final Dream

The Poor People's Campaign Seeks To Complete Martin Luther King's Final Dream

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610836891/611097714" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Low-wage workers and clergy are demonstrating today for economic justice. The demonstrations are unfolding in 30 state capitals, also here in Washington. They mark a revival of the Poor People's Campaign that Martin Luther King Jr. started shortly before he was assassinated in 1968. Here's his wife, Coretta Scott King, talking to activists after his death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORETTA SCOTT KING: We must dedicate and rededicate ourselves to making a society based on the principles of love, truth, nonviolence, justice and peace.

KELLY: That audio was provided by Pacifica Archives. As it did 50 years ago, today's Poor People's Campaign aims to put a face on poverty in America, also to get elected officials to take action. NPR's Brakkton Booker is reporting on this, and he joins us now from the U.S. Capitol. Hey there, Brakkton.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So I said Washington is one of the places where we've got these demonstrations. What's going on where you are today?

BOOKER: Well, it was quite a scene today. So there were quite a few people out there - couple hundred. And it was nothing out of the ordinary for a typical rally you would see in Washington. People were holding signs that read, poor is immoral and signs about starving a child is violence. And people were - who are living in poverty and in some cases suffering as a result of not having health care addressed the crowd. They were urging others who were not there to not let their pain go in vain, rather use their voices to demand elected officials address issues of poverty. And here's the Poor People's Campaign national co-chair Reverend Barber, who spoke at the rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM BARBER: We've come to put a face on the facts. We've come to put forward the people who are hurt by the policy violence and the attention violence because you can't change the narrative until you change the narrator.

BOOKER: So they want to change the narrator to the people. And so after the speeches were done, they left the stage and walked into the street between the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court. And faith leaders and low-wage workers and folks who are demanding health care were blocking traffic. And Capitol Police allowed them to kind of go on about their business for a while, and then they started arresting people. And about - organizers anticipate about a hundred people were arrested today.

KELLY: A hundred people arrested - OK, so walk us back, and remind everybody. What was Martin Luther King's original vision for this back in 1968?

BOOKER: Right. So the Poor People's Campaign was one of Martin Luther King's lesser-known campaigns, but perhaps it was his most ambitious. You got to remember that King had already been instrumental in getting landmark legislation passed like the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965. And so people talk about how the campaign was kind of losing steam. So he said, look; poverty impacts all people, not just black people, not just people of color. Poverty impacts people of all races.

So he organized this coalition of white, black, Latino, Native American and brought all these people to the Mall. Now, I've got to say King was assassinated before the Poor People's Campaign got underway, but it still carried on in the weeks after his death. And they built a tent city called Resurrection City, and it lasted 42 days. But most people say that not much came out of that 1968 Poor People's Campaign.

KELLY: And why the revival now? This is a 50-year anniversary thing.

BOOKER: Sure. Certainly that has a lot to do with it. But, you know, people say - organizers say that, look; not a lot has changed. They say, look; 26 million people were living in poverty in 1967, and current census figures say that 41 million people are still living in poverty. They say that, look; actually, when you break down the figures and we factor all kinds of things, 40 million people are living in poverty. And something has to be done, so they want people to stand up.

KELLY: All right, thank you, Brakkton.

BOOKER: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR's Brakkton Booker reporting on the Poor People's Campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ MAKO FEAT. M. TAKARA AND MARCELO CABRAL'S "LOOK")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.