MLK on Poverty

Martin Luther King is mostly known and remembered for his fight for Civil Rights, but he was also an anti-poverty activist. In December 1967, he started to work on the “Poor People’s Campaign” that was focussing on the concept of minimum income, with a view of raising all Americans into the middle class through a guaranteed income[1]. In his last speech, just four days before his assassination, Martin Luther King said “There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty”. He highlighted the challenges to get rid of poverty both abroad and in the USA and spoke about his plan for the launch of the “Poor People’s Campaign” in Washington “We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists”[2]

In his last book “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?”  King higlights the need to put an end to poverty by shifting from a materialistic society to a person oriented one. He calls for a “revolution of values” to end racism, militarism and materialism[3] he adds “there is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American ctizen whether to be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except shortsightedness to pevent us from guaranteeing an anual minimum – and livable – income for every American family”[4].

This book was critically received in the context of the rise of more radical voices such as Black naionalism or Malcolm X’s theories[5]. However, King never waived from his non-violent approach, also by taking a stand against the war in Vietnam and calling for “the positive revolution of values” to supplant war[6].

Additional links and references on MLK and poverty:

[1] the Altlantic

[2] Homeless Alliance

[3] Chapter VI, p187

[4] Ibid p188).

[5] The King Centre

[6] Chapter VI p 188

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