The Poor People's Campaign

By | August 23, 2021

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Martin Luther King marching to help the poor. Source: (Pinterest).

On January 8, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation in the State of the Union Address, proposing legislation to help combat poverty in America. The poverty rate at that point was around 19 percent. Thus began Johnson’s War on Poverty, embodying his belief that "Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it". While there were 40 programs established to combat poverty after the speech and the subsequent passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, people were angry that this “war” was not fought or even fully funded, in part because of the distractions posed by the Vietnam War.

The Poor People’s Campaign began as a reaction to this. This diverse coalition comprised of white, Latino, Indigenous, and Black Americans from all over the country was the creation of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The leaders of the campaign decided that holding a one-day demonstration was not as effective as camping out on the National Mall. 

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Demonstrators participating in the Poor People's March on Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C., June 1968. Source: (Wikipedia).

The Beginnings Of The Campaign

King started thinking about taking the poor to Washington by at least October 1966. At the end of his 1967 address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he said, "We have moved from the era of civil rights to an era of human rights." King’s goal was to bring the poor to Washington to make an impact on government in a nonviolent way. As he said, “We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on. People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, 'We are here; we are poor; we don't have any money; you have made us this way ... and we've come to stay until you do something about it.'” Senator Robert F. Kennedy, supported the idea, encouraging them to bring the impoverished to D.C. in order to “make hunger and poverty visible”.