«An idea unleashed in history»: Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the campaign to end poverty in America

Robert Hamilton


As well as being a civil rights advocate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr consistently called for human rights for all. He opposed poverty, racism, imperialism and political disfranchisement as part of an analysis, which viewed inequality not only in American but also in global terms. In order to address poverty and related human rights issues, King proposed a Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). In May 1968, only weeks after King’s assassination, the PPC saw thousands of poor people travel to Washington DC to protest against poverty. The demonstrators occupied sacred space in the nation’s capital by building a temporary community, known as Resurrection City. During preparations for the PPC and in Washington, the activists drew on a rich legacy of adult education from previous civil rights campaigns. The approaches adopted by PPC participants were innovative and represented alternatives to conventional educational practices. These included Freedom Schools, a Poor People’s University, workshops, marches and demonstrations, which assisted the protesters to come together in coalition to challenge dominant hegemonic narratives concerning the causes, nature and scope of poverty. Although ultimately unsuccessful in its aspiration to end economic injustice in America, the PPC undoubtedly laid the seeds for future anti-poverty activism. The article draws on primary source documents and oral testimonies from five archives.


civil rights; adult education; poverty; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14516/ete.188


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