Martin Luther King, Jr. on poverty and unemployment

Posted: 17 January 2011 in Uncategorized
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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final years, from 1965 to 1968, are mostly missing from the media’s coverage of his life.

As Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon explain, we get the familiar footage—King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968)—but nothing about his activities during those “missing” years.

They are the years during which he voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War and organized what he considered to be a “new phase” of the Civil Rights Movement, the Poor People’s Campaign. A few months before announcing the Campaign, King sent a telegram to President Lyndon Johnson in which he focused on the need for economic equality.

Here are some excerpts:

The chaos and destruction now spreads through our cities is a blind revolt against the revolting conditions which you so courageously set out to remedy as you entered office in 1964, the conditions have not changed.

And though the aimless violence and destruction may be contained through military means, only drastic changes in the life of the poor will provide the kind of order and stability you desire. . .

I do not think we are helpless; we are only acting helplessly. I should like to offer a single proposal that I am convinced will be as effective as it is just. Every single out-break without exception has substantially been ascribed to gross unemployment, particularly among young people. In most cities unemployment of negro youth is greater than the unemployment level of the depression ’30’s.

Let us do one simple direct thing — let us end unemployment totally and immediately. In the depression days the nation was close to prostrate on the brink of bankruptcy, yet it created the WPA to make millions of jobs instantly available for all existing levels of skill. The jobs were tailored to the man, not the man to the job in recognition of the emergency. Training followed employment, it did not precede it and become an obstacle to it.

What we did three decades ago during an economic holocaust can easily be done today in the comfort of prosperity.

I propose specifically the creation of a national agency that shall provide a job to every person who needs work, young and old, white and Negro. Not one hundred jobs when 10,000 are needed. Not some cheap way out. Not some frugal device to maintain a balanced budget within an unbalanced society.

I propose a job for everyone, not a promise to see if jobs can be found. There cannot be social peace when a people have awakened to their rights and dignity and to the wretchedness of their lives simultaneously. If our government cannot create jobs, it cannot govern. It cannot have white affluence amid black poverty and have racial harmony.

Who will stand up today to honor King’s memory by rejecting the “frugal device to maintain a balanced budget within an unbalanced society” and demanding that we “end unemployment totally and immediately”?

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Comments
  1. mike fleisch says:

    Thanks, David. Even MLK’s earlier deeds and accomplishments tend to take on an innocuous sheen today that at the time were radical… but like you say, his later work is not even mentioned anymore.

    I’m sure you’ve seen this also:

    http://www.writespirit.net/inspirational_talks/political/martin_luther_king_talks/where_do_we_go_from_here/

  2. John Judge says:

    Dr. King saw no separation between the problems and issues of racism, poverty and militarism, but saw them as three pillars of repression that had to be addressed equally to make change. His Riverside Church talk one year to the day before his assassination and his efforts to organize the Poor People’s March led directly to the system calling for his elimination. The CIA feared him as a “Black Messiah”, the FBI saw him as a communist agent and a threat to be replaced by a “clean Negro” when they targeted him under COINTELPRO, and Army Intelligence had spied on King and his family since his grandfather’s day. All three agencies were present and had King under close surveillance in Memphis on April 4, 1968. His family proved in a civil trial that the alleged assassin, James Earl Ray was a patsy who did not shoot Dr. King and that the plot to kill him went to the highest levels of government, but especially to the Pentagon. If we want to honor his life, we must solve his death. The Coalition on Political Assassinations, http://www.politicalassassinations.com has worked since 2001 for release of all classified government files on the life and death of Dr. King through the MLK, Jr. Records Act, most recently promoted but not introduced by Senator John Kerry and Rep. John Lewis. It is time to give the people back our own history.

  3. William Lee says:

    Read “An Act of State” – it was an inside job.

  4. John Judge says:

    In my view, the term “inside job” is meaningless unless you explain what inside you are talking about. Inside Dr. King’s entourage, inside the KKK or Mafia, inside the FBI and US intelligence and military agencies? Or all of the above? It doesn’t work as a term to explain 9/11 very well either. An “inside job” in crime terminology could mean a theft by the corporate managers, a corrupt accountant or even an employee who leaves a door unlocked for others to get in. Dr. William Pepper wrote Orders to Kill and Acts of State and was the last attorney for James Earl Ray’s aborted appeal (by the Supreme Court of Tennessee pulling Judge Joe Brown off the case when he tested the alleged murder weapon and found it did not match the bullet and by prison authorities that refused Ray a liver transfer, effectively giving him the death sentence), and the attorney for Dr. King’s family in the civil trial that exonerated Ray and blamed elements of the US government, which got no media coverage at all. “The government did it” or “inside job” is no more useful than blaming the “Mafia” or any other secretive entity. The law assigns individual or group complicity to named people. That takes research, not suspicion. Motive, means and opportunity give you suspects, not convictions which must be based on evidence that exculpates one to the exclusions of all others if justice is to be done. Lynch mobs use the other logic and any suspect will do – John Judge

  5. John Judge says:

    Correction” incriminates one to the exculpation and exclusion of all others”

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