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Past and Present

Past & Present: MLK's 'Poor People's Campaign'

Horace Cort / AP

Most Americans are probably aware of the famous August 28, 1963, March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech. Far fewer citizens are aware of his advocacy of a second march on Washington planned for April 1968.

This event, formulated by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, sought to dramatize the issue of domestic poverty. At a December 4, 1967, press conference, Dr. King announced that SCLC would “lead waves of the nation’s poor and disinherited to Washington, D.C., next spring.” Moreover, he asserted, “this will be no mere one-day march in Washington but a trek to the nation’s capital by suffering and outraged citizens who will go to stay until some definite and positive action is taken to provide jobs and income for the poor.”

In the end, King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, kept him from participating in this campaign. One can only speculate as to what might have happened had he personally led America’s poor into Washington, D.C.

Fifty years later, there has been a renewed call for a “Poor People’s Campaign” to dramatize the effects of ongoing poverty in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the percentage of people existing below the poverty line has changed little over the years. The current movement will culminate in a June 23 mass rally in Washington, D.C.