Poor People's Campaign
The Poor People's Campaign was a 1968 effort to gain economic justice for poor people in the United States. It was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and carried out in the wake of King's assassination.
The Campaign demanded economic and human rights for poor Blacks, Chicanos, Native Americans, and Whites. After presenting an organized set of demands to Congress and executive agencies, participants set up a 3000-person tent city on the Washington Mall, where they stayed for six weeks.
The Poor People’s Campaign was motivated by a desire for economic justice: the idea that all people should have what they need to live. King and the SCLC shifted their focus to these issues after observing that gains in civil rights had not improved the material conditions of life for many African Americans. The Poor People’s Campaign was a multiracial effort aimed at alleviating poverty regardless of race.
According to political historians such as Barbara Cruikshank, "the poor" did not particularly conceive of themselves as a unified group until Johnson's War on Poverty (declared in 1964) identified them as such. The 1960 census tallied 35 million Americans below the poverty line. At the same time, the nature of poverty itself was changing as America's population increasingly lived in cities, not farms (and could not grow its own food). Poor African-Americans, particularly women, suffered from racism and sexism that amplified the impact of poverty, especially after "welfare mothers" became nationally recognized concept.
By 1968, the War on Poverty seemed like a failure, neglected by a Johnson administration (and Congress) that wanted to focus on the Vietnam War. The Poor People’s Campaign sought to address poverty through income and housing. The campaign would help the poor by dramatizing their needs, uniting all races under the commonality of hardship and presenting a plan to start to a solution. Under the "economic bill of rights," the Poor People's Campaign asked for the federal government to prioritize helping the poor with a $30 billion anti-poverty package that included a commitment to full employment, a guaranteed annual income measure and more low-income housing. The Poor People’s Campaign was part of the second phase of the civil rights movement. King said, "We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty".
Dr. King wanted to bring poor people to Washington D.C., forcing politicians to see them and think about their needs: "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.'"
The idea for the Poor People’s Campaign began in May 1967 during a SCLC retreat in Frogmore, South Carolina. King told his aides that the SCLC would have to raise nonviolence to a new level to pressure Congress into passing an Economic Bill of Rights for the nation’s poor. The SCLC resolved to expand its civil rights struggle to include demands for economic justice and to challenge the Vietnam War. In his concluding address to the conference, King announced a shift from "reform" to "revolution" and stated: "We have moved from the era of civil rights to an era of human rights."
Witnessing the anger that led to riots in Newark (12–17 July 1967) and Detroit (23–27 July 1967), King released a report in August (titled "The Crisis in America's Cities") which called for disciplined urban disruption, particularly in Washington:
To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer-lasting, costly to society but not wantonly destructive. Moreover, it is more difficult for government to quell it by superior force. Mass civil disobedience can use rage as a constructive and creative force. It is purposeless to tell Negroes they should not be enraged when they should be. Indeed, they will be mentally healthier if they do not suppress rage but vent it constructively and use its energy peacefully but forcefully to cripple the operations of an oppressive society. Civil disobedience can utilize the militancy wasted in riots to seize clothes or groceries many did not even want. Civil disobedience has never been used on a mass scale in the North. It has rarely been seriously organized and resolutely pursued. Too often in the past was it employed incorrectly. It was resorted to only when there was an absence of mass support and its purpose was headline-hunting. The exceptions were the massive school boycotts by Northern Negroes. They shook educational systems to their roots but they lasted only single days and were never repeated. If they are developed as weekly events at the same time that mass sit-ins are developed inside and at the gates of factories for jobs, and if simultaneously thousands of unemployed youth camp in Washington, as the Bonus Marchers did in the thirties, with these and other practices, without burning a match or firing a gun, the impact of the movement will have earthquake proportions. (In the Bonus Marches, it was the government that burned down the marchers' shelters when it became confounded by peaceful civil disobedience.) This is not an easy program to implement. Riots are easier just because they need no organization. To have effect we will have to develop mass disciplined forces that can remain excited and determined without dramatic conflagrations.
Also in August, Senator Robert F. Kennedy asked Marian Wright Edelman "to tell Dr. King to bring the poor people to Washington to make hunger and poverty visible since the country’s attention had turned to the Vietnam War and put poverty and hunger on the back burner." Edelman transmitted Kennedy's message to King in September.
The SCLC’s major planning before announcing the campaign took place during a five-day meeting (27–31 November 1967) in Frogmore, SC. With King’s leadership, the group agreed to organize a civil disobedience campaign in Washington, D.C., focused on jobs and income. King wanted the demonstration to be “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots without destroying property”.
Not all members of the SCLC agreed with the idea of occupying Washington. Bayard Rustin opposed civil disobedience. Other members of the group (like Jesse Jackson wanted to pursue other priorities. Dissent continued throughout the planning of the campaign.
King traveled to Washington in February 1968 in order to meet with local activists and prepare the resources necessary to support the campaign.
Marchers were scheduled to arrive in Washington on May 2. Some planners wanted to target specific politicians; others wanted to avoid 'begging' and focus on movement-building and mutual education.
The SCLC announced the campaign on 4 December 1967. King delivered a speech which identified "a kind of social insanity which could lead to national ruin." In January 1968, the SCLC created and distributed an "Economic Fact Sheet" with statistics explaining why the campaign was necessary. King avoided providing specific details about the campaign and attempted to redirect media attention to the values at stake. The Poor People’s Campaign held firm to the movement’s commitment to non-violence. “We are custodians of the philosophy of non-violence,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. at a press conference. “And it has worked”. King originally wanted the Poor People's Campaign to start in Quitman County, Mississippi because of the intense and visible economic disparity there.
In February 1968, King announced specific demands: $30 billion for antipoverty, full employment, guaranteed income, and the annual construction of 500,000 affordable residences.
King toured a number of cities to raise support for the campaign. On March 18, 1968, King visited the town of Marks, Mississippi. He watched a teacher feeding schoolchildren their lunch, consisting only of a slice of apple and some crackers, and was moved to tears. King's visits were carefully orchestrated and the media tightly controlled; meetings with militant Black leaders were held behind closed doors.
The media often discouraged those within the movement who were committed to non-violence. Instead of focusing on issues of urban inequality and the interracial efforts concerted to address them, the media concentrated on specific incidences of violence, leadership conflicts and protest tactics.
Members and friends
- Martin Luther King, Jr. was the Campaign's undisputed leader until his assassination on 4 April 1968.el
- Rev. James Bevel was a key advisor to King and organizer of many SCLC campaigns including the Selma to Montgomery March
- Stanley Levison was a key advisor to King whose influence diminished after the assassination.
- Ralph Abernathy became SCLC president and thus leader of the campaign after the assassination.
- Bernard Lafayette was the national coordinator of the campaign.
- Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales leader in the Colorado caravan and prominent Chicano power advocate
- Reies Tijerina, Chicano leader in the New Mexico caravan
- Stoney Cooks did outreach and recruitment to college students.
- Hosea Williams of the Georgia SCLC was the campaign's field director and became a director of logistics at Resurrection City. Rev. Fred C. Benette was a liaison to the clergy.
- SCLC Vice President Andrew Young was a major leader and spokesperson.
- Walter Fauntroy was the Washington coordinator for the SCLC, and became director of what remained of the Campaign in 1969.
The SCLC recruited marshals, who came to a training workshop in Atlanta in March then returned home to recruit participants, raise funds, and solicit organizational support. Participants were required to sign an agreement to use non-violence and to obey the marshals.
Reactions to the campaign were mixed, and some were outright hostile based on their perceptions of King and the SCLC. Leaders and recruiters had to construct their images carefully in order to appeal to potential marchers across lines of wealth and denomination—they de-emphasized their middle-class status, wearing denim instead of suits. They faced the delicate challenge of simultaneously appealing to radicals and moderates (including campus liberals).
Campaign leaders recruited from Mississippi to Illinois, and people of all walks of life came from across the nation. Many volunteers were women and many had been involved in other civil rights protests. People commenting on their reasons for participation explained that they wanted to participate in the decisions that affected their lives, and to explain how federal programs, intended to help them, sometimes left them behind completely. They stressed that they were deprived of their basic human rights, and they wanted to make their situations known in the nation's capital. Most did not own their homes or have basic utilities where they lived. Many did not receive federal benefits of any sort.
The American Federation of Teachers promised to set up "freedom schools" for children in the camps; the National Association of Social Workers also said it would help with child care. The Youth International Party held its own rallies in support. The campaign received an endorsement from the YMCA.
Organizers already in D.C. were enthusiastic about the campaign, and by March 1968 over 75 people were meeting in committees to prepare for the incoming marchers. The campaign was endorsed by a variety of local organizations, especially religious congregations.
The campaign received a limited endorsement and financial support from SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC (soon to change its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee) announced that it would not march with the Poor People's Campaign in D.C. because it did not believe in strict adherence to nonviolence. SCLC also reported receiving major financial support for the march from middle-class whites. The Steering Committee Against Repression (SCAR)—which included members from SNCC as well as from a variety of other groups—also gave a partial endorsement, urging the SCLC to focus the campaign on state repression, surveillance, persecution, and political prisoners.
The campaign had support from within the organized labor movement, including endorsements by The Daily Worker, United Steelworkers, and Walter Reuther. However, the official leadership of the AFL–CIO—particularly President George Meany—would not endorse the campaign because of disagreement over the Vietnam War.
Government reaction and preparations
The prospect of an occupation of Washington by thousands of poor people triggered fears of rioting.
The Johnson administration prepared for the campaign as though it might attempt a violent takeover of the nation’s capital.
Some members of Congress were outspoken about their fear of the campaign. Senator Russell B. Long called for the censure of Congresspeople whom he accused of "bending the knee" to the campaign, also saying: "When that bunch of marchers comes here, they can just burn the whole place down and we can just move the capital to some place where they enforce the law." Senator John L. McClellan accused the SCLC of attempting to start a riot, and decried a recent court decision that he said would allow marchers “to go to Washington one night and get on welfare the next day”, rendering D.C. a “Mecca for migrants”.
20,000 army soldiers were activated and prepared for a military occupation of the capital should the Poor People’s Campaign pose a threat.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) strove to monitor and disrupt the campaign, which it code-named “POCAM”. The FBI, which had been targeting King since 1962 with COINTELPRO, increased its efforts after King’s 4 April 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam”. It also lobbied government officials to oppose King on the grounds that he was a communist, “an instrument in the hands of subversive forces seeking to undermine the nation”, and affiliated with “two of the most dedicated and dangerous communists in the country” (Stanley Levison and Harry Wachtel). After “Beyond Vietnam” these efforts were reportedly successful in turning lawmakers and administration officials against King, the SCLC, and the cause of civil rights. After King was assassinated and the marches got underway, reports began to emphasize the threat of black militancy instead of communism.
Operation POCAM became the first major project of the FBI’s Ghetto Informant Program (GIP), which recruited thousands of people to report on poor black communities. Through GIP, the FBI quickly established files on SCLC recruiters in cities across the US. FBI agents posed as journalists, used wiretaps, and even recruited some of the recruiters as informants.
The FBI sought to disrupt the campaign by spreading rumors that it was bankrupt, that it would not be safe, and that participants would lose welfare benefits upon returning home. Local bureaus reported particular success for intimidation campaigns in Birmingham, Alabama, Savannah, Georgia, and Cleveland, Ohio. In Richmond, Virginia, the FBI collaborated with the John Birch Society to set up an organization called Truth About Civil Turmoil (TACT). TACT held events featuring a Black woman named Julia Brown who claimed to have infiltrated the civil rights movement and exposed its Communist leadership.
Memphis sanitation strike
In February–March 1968, King directed his attention to the Memphis Sanitation Strike. Although King continued to tour to raise support for the marches to Washington, he declared the Memphis strike to be a major part of the campaign itself.
On 28 March, unusual violent incidents in Memphis brought negative media scrutiny to the Poor People's Campaign. The FBI released negative editorials for newspaper publication, implying that the Memphis outbursts foreshadowed mass violence by the Poor People's Campaign in Washington. The SCLC released counter-editorials which included the statement, "The issue at stake is not violence vs. nonviolence but POVERTY AND RACISM".
On 14 March 1968, the SCLC conducted a "Minority Meeting" in Atlanta. This unprecedented historical meeting meeting began to organize racial minorities into a group for organized resistance to racism and economic injustice. In particular the meeting created a dialogue between the leaders of the Chicano movement and of the Black civil rights movement. With Cesar Chavez occupied by a farm workers' hunger strike, Reies Tijerina was the most prominent Chicano leader present.
King flew back to Memphis on 3 April and was murdered in the evening on 4 April. The assassination of King dealt a major blow to the campaign.
In some ways, the Poor People's Campaign began at King's funeral on 9 April 1968, when tens of thousands marched through Atlanta with Coretta Scott King—following King's casket on a mule-drawn wagon.
The SCLC, now led by Ralph Abernathy but with an obvious leadership vacuum, held a retreat in Atlanta on 16–17 April. They resolved to proceed with the campaign after learning that the Memphis strike had ended in relative success. The SCLC applied for a permit to camp on the Washington Mall and reoriented the campaign away from civil disobedience and towards the creation and maintenance of a tent city.
The 16 April edition Look magazine carried a posthumous article from King titled "Showdown for Nonviolence"—his last statement on the Poor People's Campaign. The article warns of imminent social collapse and suggests that the Campaign presents government with what may be its last opportunity to achieve peaceful change—through an Economic Bill of Rights.
The Committee of 100
The Committee of 100 was a group formed to lobby for the Poor People's Campaign in advance of the arrival of thousands for Resurrection City. On 29 April 1968 the Committee began lobbying members of Congress and leaders of executive agencies. The group, a diverse coalition of different people from around the country, acted as a formal lobby that delivered organized presentations of the Campaign's demands. Tijerina was arrested in New Mexico(with charges that had earlier been dismissed) hours before he was scheduled to leave for Washington to join the lobby. His arrest was interpreted as an intentional effort to thwart the campaign. SCLC leaders including Abernathy, Young, and Lafayette were present and led delegations. Poor people from around the country made up most of the group. Many officials perceived even this group as threatening.
The Committee demanded an Economic Bill of Rights with five planks:
- "A meaningful job at a living wage"
- "A secure and adequate income" for all those unable to find or do a job
- "Access to land" for economic uses
- "Access to capital" for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
- Ability for ordinary people to "play a truly significant role" in the government
Abernathy defended these demands by highlighting the use of slave labor in the production of America's capital and arguing that historically oppressed populations did not have the same opportunities as whites who already controlled economic and political resources. Regarding the last point, Abernathy also made specific call for collective bargaining, invoking King's recent involvement with the Memphis strike.
The Committee visited several executive agencies to raise awareness and make demands:
- The Committee made a separate stop at the Department of Justice, where it demanded legal reforms including an end to police brutality against Mexican-Americans and indigenous Americans. Attorney General Ramsey Clark responded that "man is not the most efficient or effective creature we would hope him to be," and, "We'll do our best and I hope you will do yours."
- At the Department of Labor, the Committee met with Secretary William Wirtz to demand jobs living wages, job training, input on labor policy, and an end to discrimination. The Committee also called attention to the high unemployment rate among minorities, which they believed to be underreported by the Department.
- The Committee had particularly sharp criticism for the Department of Agriculture, which they said had done little to address the crisis of hunger and malnutrition in the United States—and in fact neglected to use available funds to feed the starving and malnourished. They called for food stamps, school lunches, and distribution programs, which would be staffed by some of those who needed jobs. They also criticized the favoritism showed for corporate farming and demanded protection for poor small farmers. Secretary Orville Freeman was reportedly dismissive, and downplayed his Department's responsibility for the subsidies to corporate agribusiness.
- The Office of Economic Opportunity was intended specifically to assist poor people. A contingent of the Committee, led by Andrew Young, made the case that the OEO had failed in its responsibility and failed to authentically involve poor people in its decision making.
- Young led a delegation the next day to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. A statement read by Lafayette highlighted duality and hypocrisy within the American medical system: "We come to ask why a rich nation with the most advanced medical knowledge in the world can develop artificial organs yet cannot provide inoculations against disease to many of its poorest children." The Committee also presented a long list of specific demands surrounding health care, which mostly involved expanding the medical system to make it more accessible to the poor (while creating jobs in the process). Walter Fauntroy read a separate statement about education, which called for increased minority control of education through policies that "permit poor black, brown, and white children to express their own worth and dignity as human beings, as well as the extent to which instruction, teaching materials, and the total learning process stresses the contributions and the common humanity of minority groups." The delegation called for democratic control over schools and curricula, transparency of school budgets, affirmative action in HEW's own hiring practices, and real progress on desegregation. Finally, they made similar demands for democracy and dignity in the administration of welfare.
- At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Committee demanded low-incoming housing and enforcement of laws against housing discrimination. In particular they outlined a work program that would allow poor people to construct and rehabilitate housing. They also demanded Chicago participation in housing policy and greater inclusion of Spanish speakers in low-cost housing programs. And they criticized "urban renewal" programs, which they (following James Baldwin) called "Urban Negro Removal". Secretary Robert C. Weaver said he was doing the best he could.
- The Committee of 100 also visited Secretary Dean Rusk at the State Department to demand enforcement of the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo, limitations on immigration while Americans still lacked jobs, and cessation of diplomatic relations with South Africa and Portugal because of their governments' racist policies.
- At the Department of the Interior, the Committee presented a list of concerns related to the situation of American Indians. They repeated demands of jobs or income, housing, and schools. They also criticized the cultural assimilation of young Indians. There was some accusations that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was intentionally inculcating racism against Blacks among Indian Americans.
The Committee of 100 also lobbied the Senate Committee on Manpower, Employment, and Poverty, which had more direct power to act and appropriate funds. The Senate Committee created a new ad hoc poverty committee that met during the Poor People's Campaign occupation.
Media reports were mixed on the Committee of 100. Many delegates received the opportunity to tell their stories for the first time, publicly challenging those in power (who typically enjoyed automatic access to the media). Congress's reaction, as quoted in the media, was hostile. Appropriations chair George H. Mahon suggested that the Committee would be mostly ignored because Congress could not "legislate under threats of violence.
Roads to Resurrection City
On Sunday May 12, 1968, demonstrators led by Coretta Scott King began a two-week protest in Washington, D.C., demanding an Economic Bill of Rights. May 12 was Mothers’ Day, and five thousand people marched to protest 1967 cuts to Head Start, as well as Senator Long’s description of mothers on welfare as “brood mares” and other elements of mounting racist stigmatization.
Throughout May, nine major caravans of poor people were gathering and preparing to converge on Washington. One caravan originated at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Much attention was focused on a Mule Train Caravan which departed on 13 May (the last to leave) from Marks, Mississippi.
Marshals for many of the caravans were militant young Black men, often affiliated with radical groups like the Memphis Invaders, who had been connected to the outburst of violence in March.
The FBI gathered copious information (including photographs) about each caravan, concerning participants, route, finances, and supplies. The marchers received assistance from the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service Division, which, newly led by Roger Wilkins, which negotiated with local governments to help Campaign proceed smoothly.
The only incident of police brutality on the march came at Detroit’s Cobo Center, where police surrounded a stalled van, provoking a standoff that eventually led to marchers being clubbed and stomped by mounted police.
Building the camp
The City initially scrambled to build shelters and meet basic needs of its initial 3000 residents. Many people volunteered to help construct shelters for the campaign's Building and Structures Committee, chaired by University of Maryland architect John Wiebenson. The group struggled in choosing a name and a location for the demonstration, and did not decide on "Resurrection City" and the National Mall until two days before the arrival of marchers. In exchange for a permit to camp on the most famous strip of grass in the United States, the campaign agreed to limit the city to 3000 people and 36 days.
The group was, of course, poor to begin with, and had now gambled on survival in a strange environment. The Baltimore Afro-American reported that the camp, receiving a flood of donations and volunteers, had reached a sort of equilibrium by Friday (24 May) of that week. It also reported the appearance of celebrity visitors, including D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, Illinois Senator Charles H. Percy, and prominent SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael.
Reports surfaced quickly that some of the young marshals were bullying people, particularly white journalists who had been invited to cover the city. It also encountered confusion and criticism when Bernard Lafayette announced that Resurrection City needed $3 million, but couldn’t convincingly explain why.
SCLC leaders led groups of residents on marches and small excursions in attempts to meet with Congresspeople. These actions were mostly uneventful. The City never conducted large-scale civil disobedience actions in Washington as King had envisioned.
The Community Relations Service sent agents, dubbed the “RC squad”, who monitored and assisted the camp, actively endeavoring to sustain its morale.
FBI surveillance of the campaign also continued with agents posing as journalists and payment of over Black informants within the City. Military intelligence also spied on the city, wiretapping the Campaign, posing as press and generally duplicating FBI efforts.
Thousands of people lived in Resurrection City and in some ways it resembled other cities. Gordon Mantler writes:
Resurrection City also became a community with all of the tensions that any society contains: hard work and idleness, order and turmoil, punishment and redemption. Businesses flourished inside the tent city’s walls, as did street crime. Older men informally talked politics while playing checkers or having their hair cut; others argued in more formal courses and workshops.
There were unusual problems but there was also unusual dignity. Residents called it “the city where you don’t pay taxes, where there’s no police brutality and you don’t go to jail.” Resurrection City had a university, a "Soul Tent", a psychiatrist, and a city hall.
The group suffered from political demoralization, conflicts over leadership, racial tension, and, always, difficult living conditions. Permanent residents became fewer as the occupation went on. People reported discipline problems, attributed to a few problematic residents who continually harassed and abused their neighbors. Abernathy was criticized for staying in a hotel and for cooperating with the Johnson administration to reduce the impact of the demonstration.
The camp suffered from the mud produced by continual rain, which at one point created standing water five inches deep. The wet and muddy protestors nevertheless made numerous mostly unsuccessful efforts to meet with their Congresspeople.
Resurrection City was stunned when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5; many took this second killing as a sign of bad things to come. Kennedy's funeral procession passed through Resurrection City en route to Arlington National Cemetery and many residents joined the group in singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the Lincoln Memorial.
A Solidarity Day rally, initially planned for May 30, was postponed by Abernathy, who asked Bayard Rustin to organize the rescheduled event. Solidarity Day was ultimately held on Wednesday, 19 June (Juneteenth), and attracted between 50,000 and 100,000 people (including many whites). The crowd was addressed not only by SCLC leaders—including Abernathy and Coretta Scott King (who spoke against the Vietnam War)—but also by politicians such as Eugene McCarthy (whom they applauded) and Hubert Humphrey (whom they booed). Labor unions, including the United Auto Workers, had a strong presence at the event.
On Thursday, 20 June, police fired several canisters of tear gas into the city—reportedly after members of the Milwaukee NAACP provoked them by throwing rocks. Life in the camp had become extremely chaotic. There were reports of vandalism from escaped mental patients. A number of people were hospitalized but none were seriously injured. On Sunday, 23 June, a white visitor to the camp was beaten, shot in the knee, and robbed. Abernathy accused police of provoking "all the violence"—through "paid infiltrators" and with the use of tear gas canisters and Molotov cocktails—and called for an investigation into "mass police brutality against the people of Resurrection City."
On June 24, over one thousand police officers arrived to clear the camp and its 500 remaining residents. Some had been led by Abernathy to another site for a pre-arranged arrest. In the camp, police still found some people singing and clapping. Police systematically searched the camp's shelters and arrested people inside and nearby the city. Police ultimately arrested 288 demonstrators including Abernathy.
On the afternoon of 24 June, police reported being hit with rocks near 14th St. & U St., an intersection central to April disturbances following the King assassination. Broken windows and a fire bomb were also reported. One hundred police in riot gear responded with tear gas. The area was sealed off, a curfew was declared, and Mayor Washington declared a state of emergency. 450 National Guardsman began patrolling the streets that night, and few incidents were reported (one man leaving a liquor store was wounded by a police officer's bullet).
An economic bill of rights was never passed, and leaders spoke with regret about the occupation. SCLC director Bill Rutherford described the campaign as the movement's "Little Bighorn." Andrew Young, vice president of the SCLC, suggested that Resurrection City was spending $27,000 a week on food and had been about to run out of money. The mainstream media contrasted the Poor People's Campaign unfavorably with (an idealized version of) the 1963 March on Washington, which they portrayed as organized and palatable.
The SCLC organized a protest caravan, driven by mule-power, to work its way down to the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida in early August. Nixon continued to make rioting a campaign issue, explicitly seeking the votes of suburban whites, "the nonshouters, the nondemonstrators", by promising increased policing, crackdowns on rioters, and an end to educational integration.
The Mule Train traveled on and arrived in Chicago for the turbulent Democratic Convention in Chicago, where the demonstrators got caught in the midst of violence in the streets surrounding the convention site.
In 1969, a Poor People's Campaign delegation, including Abernathy, met with President Nixon and asked him to address hunger and malnutrition.
During the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Abernathy and the SCLC organized "Resurrection City II" in Miami. There, they camped alongside other groups, including Students for a Democratic Society and Jerry Rubin's Yippees.
- Bonus Army
- Coxey's Army
- March on Washington Movement
- Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign
- Occupy D.C.
- Lily Gay Lampinen, "The Poor People’s Campaign", International Socialism, Autumn 1968.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 37–38. "Barbara Cruikshank argues that the government’s War on Poverty actually transformed those in poverty from a disparate group often in conflict with one another into 'the poor'—a multiracial, regionally diverse political interest group.7 During this era poor people joined forces to protest their condition and the government’s failure to help them and at the same time fostered a sense of pride and dignity in being poor."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 54.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 48–49, 52–53.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 13–14. “King’s emergent radicalism was fostered by his mounting despair over the callous and reactionary political climate in Washington. The White House’s earlier boastful assurances of ‘guns and butter’ was proving a cruel hoax. Johnson’s 1966 civil rights bill containing the strong open housing title died in the Senate, largely because the White House, distracted by the Vietnam War, never bothered to lobby the leaders of the political opposition in the upper house. Before the year ended the Congress slashed the budget of the Office of Economic Opportunity, reducing the War on Poverty funds by half a billion dollars […]”
- Bishop, Jim. The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1971.
- To All Souls. “The ill fated second phase of the civil rights struggle.” 2008, April 7. <http://toallsouls.blogspot.com/2007/04/ill-fated-second-phase-of-civil-rights.html>.
- Burns, Stewart. To The Mountaintop. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 2004.
- Engler, Mark (15 January 2010). "Dr. Martin Luther King's Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom". The Nation. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 150–151. "At a SCLC retreat at Frogmore held from May 21–22, 1967, the organization agreed to focus on an economic human rights agenda by attacking the slums of northern cities, particularly Cleveland and Chicago, and challenging the Vietnam War as the greatest impediment to combating poverty"
- King, Jr., Martin Luther. "To Charter a Course for Our Future." Frogmore, SC, 21 May 1967. Quoted in Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 151
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 152.
- King, Jr., Martin Luther. "The Crisis in America's Cities: An Analysis of Social Disorder and a Plan of Action Against Poverty, Discrimination, and Racism in Urban America". Atlanta: Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 15 August 1967.
- Edelman, Marian Wright. "Still Hungry in America". Philadelphia Tribune, 21 February 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 154.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 20.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 154. "William Rutherford, who had organized the Friends of SCLC in Europe in 1966 and was appointed executive director of SCLC during the summer of 1967, declared that, “basically almost no one on the staff thought that the next priority, the next major movement, should be focused on poor people or the question of poverty in America.”48 At the time James Bevel wanted to remain focused on combating slums in northern cities, Hosea Williams promoted voter registration campaigns in the South, Jesse Jackson wanted to continue to develop Operation Breadbasket, and Andrew Young worried that SCLC’s budget of under a million dollars necessitated smaller campaigns in the South."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 158–159.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 164.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 166–168.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 156.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 157.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 20. “When reporters later pressed him about the campaign’s tactics, King sidestepped specific details and focused on the moral dimensions of the crisis”.
- Amy Bach (2009). Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court. New York: Metropolitan Books. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-8050-7447-5.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 165–166.
- Jackson, Thomas. From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Economic Justice. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
- "Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., Distinguished Senior Scholar-in-Residence". Faculty Biographies. Emory University. 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 234–235.
- Okoh, Gim (8 June 1968). "Will death of senator hurt Poor?". Baltimore Afro-American. p. 1. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 240. "Before participants could participate in the PPC, they had to sign a pledge of non- violence.17 Lawrence S. Apsey, Chairman of the Quaker Project on Community Conflict, initiated the idea for the pledge and outlined the reasons why PPC participants should remain non-violent. [...] SCLC used Apsey’s pledge word for word. Participants who signed the pledge vowed to commit themselves to be nonviolent, to avoid abusive or hostile language, to not resist arrest, and 'to obey the instruction of official Campaign marshals at all times.'"
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 162. "Boston organizer, Pierce Barker, explained to Hosea Williams that Boston’s black community viewed King unfavorably and was still reeling from the “minor sort of rebellion” during the summer of 1967, which had united the black community behind the more militant organizations. Meanwhile, local white liberals had turned their efforts and their money to anti-war activities."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 232.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 235.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 248.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 242–245.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 246.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 247.
- Out of 140 marchers who filled out a questionnaire, 20 received social security, 25 received welfare, and 42 had food stamps (many could not afford the $2 fee required to purchase them). Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 247—248.
- "No Good Nature About It, Says King of Spring March". The Spokesman-Review. AP. 24 March 1968. p. 24. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- "Traditions May Break on Easter". Palm Beach Post. AP. 13 April 1968. p. 1. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 163-164.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 232. "SCLC’s Speaker’s Bureau established the Educational Task Force—composed primarily of volunteers from the Peace Corps and Vista, ministers, seminarians, and concerned citizens—which aimed to educate and involve Washington residents. The Bureau used the mass media and delivered speeches in the D.C. area to publicize the PPC’s plans, educate the public on the causes and effects of U.S. poverty, and inform the non-poor about ways they could participate in the movement."
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 24. “Before SCLC staffers fully settled into their Washington headquarters, more than 75 volunteers had formed a dozen committees to plan for alternative housing, transportation, freedom schools, medical and sanitation needs, and other contingencies.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 25. “By the end of March, the FBI’s list of organizations endorsing the PCC was impressive. It included most of the liberal church and community action groups in Washington: Interreligious Committee on Racial Relations, Council of Churches of Greater Washington, Cooperative Lutheran Parish Council, Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, Potomac Presbytery, Baptist Ministers Council, Greater Washington Unitarian Ministers Association, the local chapter of the NAACP, Black Student Union, Washington Teachers Union, National Association of Social Workers, and SANE.”
- "SNCC Won't March in Poor People's Drive". Baltimore Afro-American. 25 May 1968. p. 18. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- "Resurrection City grows by leaps in Washington". Baltimore Afro-American. 25 May 1968. p. 18. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 255–266.
- Robert T. Chase, "Class Resurrection: The Poor People's Campaign of 1968 and Resurrection City", Essays in History (Vol 40), 1998.
- Risen, Nation on Fire (2009), pp. 14–15. "Already agitated by the past summer's riots and afraid of a repeat, or worse, in 1968, the federal government looked at the Poor People's Campaign from inside a bunker. Congress held hearings. The D.C. Police Department developed extensive antiriot plans."
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 8 “On the whole the Johnson administration reacted as though the campaigners were an invading horde from a strange land intent on the violent disruption of the government rather than fellow Americans, most of whom were underprivileged and powerless nonwhite citizens. Many Kennedy-Johnson government liberals acted no differently than as if they had signed on as outriders in Hoover’s private war against King and the poor people’s movement.”
- "Russell Long hits march of the poor". New York Times. AP. 26 April 1968. Retrieved 3 October 2012. "Senator Russell B. Long, Democrat of Louisiana, said today that he would call for the censure or explusion of any member of Congress who advocated 'bending the knee' to demands of Negro leaders planning a massive demonstration—the Poor People's Campaign—here next month."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 251.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 85
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 93 “A March story in the ‘’New York Times’’ estimated that officials in Washington would have 10,000 police and troops on standby for the Poor People’s Campaign. By May Pentagon planners were ready to deploy 20,000 regular army troops in ‘a steady stream’ into the capital over a 72-hour period, the first 5,400 within six hours after notification.”
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 9–10. “During project POCAM the FBI marshaled its awesome resources to propagate the thesis that the Poor People’s Campaign was instigated by a subversive conspiracy. (POCAM was the code name for the Poor People’s Campaign in all internal FBI communications relating to this project, which had initially been identified as the Washington Spring Project. […]) Hoover and his executive officers used every opportunity to intensify the siege mentality gripping the federal government as it prepared for the army of the poor converging on the nation’s capital.”
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 16. “Most officials probably were taken in by the copious flow of FBI reports like the monograph, letters, phone calls, and discreet visits from highly placed FBI officials and were receptive to charges that King was ‘following the communist line.’ Hoover’s chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill, Deputy Director Cartha D. DeLoach, routinely briefed members of Congress on the material in the King monograph.”
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 16. “After an office visit from DeLoach, Senator Thomas J. Dodd (D-Conn.), moderately liberal on the civil rights issue and a supporter of King, criticized King’s Vietnam position and backed away from the civil rights movement. Presidential aide Harry McPherson began referring to King as ‘the crown prince of the Vietniks.’ Roger Wilkins, the highest-ranking black in Johnson’s Justice Department, recalled that after King came out against the war, Johnson’s ‘soul hardened against us then and he liked very few of us.’”
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 98–99
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 22.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 23. “Within a few weeks, FBIHQ had compiled files on SCLC recruiters in at least 17 major cities and the District of Columbia. The nature of the information in their files included past and current political activities as well as personal matters and trivia; virtually all of the intelligence was unrelated to criminal or violent activity.”
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 24.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 25–26. “The campaign would spread stories ‘about the lack of funds and organization. Fears of economic reprisal and personal safety’ were calculated to dissuade potential participants. The rumored threat that government welfare checks would be cancelled if recipients of federal assistance showed up in Washington was especially targeted at the South’s black population. All FBI field offices involved in project POCAM were directed to shape their own distinctive campaigns according to what would play best in their respective locales.”
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 26–27
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 27. “Alerted in March that King was preparing for one of his whirlwind tours to galvanize support for the PPC in Virginia, the FBI connived with elements of the local John Birch Society to thwart these efforts. The bureau and the Birchies set up a front organization called TACT (Truth About Civil Turmoil). Several days before the SCLC leader was scheduled to visit the capital of the Old Confederacy, TACT planned to sponsor a public lecture in Richmond by a Julia Brown, who would speak about the Communist penetration of the civil rights movement and especially King’s links to the American Communist party. Brown was billed in the Birchite advance publicity as a derring-do black patriot and ‘secret operative’ who had infiltrated the civil rights movement for the FBI and had witnessed the machinations of the Communist conspiracy to use the movement to undermine the American social order.”
- Risen, Nation on Fire (2009), p. 17–18
- Indeed, the unusual outburst was so useful to opponents of the campaign that some have accused the FBI of intentionally neglecting warning signs (if not being overtly involved.) McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 60–61. “The FBI seized upon the March 28 violence as a way to undercut King's reputation as a man of peace and nonviolence. There is good reason to conjecture that the FBI's inaction on March 28 in the face of threatened mayhem was a deliberate decision on the part of bureau agents."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 186.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 180. "Forming a national, multi-racial movement of the poor was no easy task. The first real involvement of Mexican Americans, American Indians, Puerto Ricans, and poor whites took place at the Minority Meeting, held in Atlanta on March 14. While SCLC had plenty of connections with both middle-class, liberal white organizations and a wide range of black organizations across the country, the organization had virtually no experience working with other minority groups and poor whites."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 182.
- Estimates range from 10,000 to 150,000
- Honey, Jericho Road (2007), p. 480. "The next day in Atlanta, Mrs. King led some 150,000 people, including presidential aspirants and top religious, civic, and labor leaders from cross the land; civil rights leaders, ministers, and sanitation workers also attended. An old wooden carriage drawn by mules, symbolizing the Poor People's Campaign, pulled King's body through the streets to his resting place."
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 107–108.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 111–112. “The encampment was limited to a population of 3000, and the permit was valid until June 15, with possible extensions at the government’s discretion. With the preliminaries out of the way, the SCLC leadership, contrary to the original plans, opted to make Resurrection City the focal point of the Poor People’s Campaign.
- King, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther. "Showdown for Nonviolence". Look 32(8), pp. 23–25.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 178.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 197–198.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 179. "…while the Committee of 100 presented themselves as a legitimate lobbying group, often the style of the participants' presentations became the focus rather than the substance of their demands. Government officials tended to perceive the visits as threats rather than rational meetings to discuss serious societal problems."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 195–197.
- Recounted in somewhat chronological order (although some of the meetings were simultaneous or overlapping) by Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 200–225.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 200–201.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 202.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 203–204.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 205–208.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 208–210.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 210–211.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 212.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 213.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 214. "Finally, like all of the other contingents, the Committee demanded that the poor play a role in determining the structure and practice of welfare, both by working in the welfare agencies and by establishing community evaluation systems for existing programs. Other specific reforms responded to social workers intrusions into poor people’s lives, restrictions on their family structure, and limitations on their personal relationships. They demanded the elimination of the patriarchal 'man in the house' rule, payment for appeal lawyers and continuation of welfare payments until rulings were decided, as well as more aggressive enforcement of civil rights requirements, particularly 'courteous treatment of applicants and recipients and the uniform use of courtesy titles in addressing them.'"
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 216.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 217. "Secretary Weaver, like others, explained that he was doing all he could, but that he was only one man and could not make appropriations in Congress then touted the legislation he did get passed. Instead of responding to the group’s demands, Weaver complained about the erratic nature of the Committee of 100’s visit […]"
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 220–221.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 220–221–225.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 219–220.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 225–226.
- Shahid, Sharon (7 February 2012). "In News History: Dateline: Resurrection City". Newseum. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 89.
- The march was dutifully shadowed and surveilled by the FBI, who warned of potential violence against the Congressional Club in retaliation against a refusal of Congressional wives to meet with the marchers. See McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 90.
- In Baltimore, the penultimate stop for a caravan of over 800, marchers were welcomed by Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro and Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau. Said D'Alesandro, "Whatever we can do to make your stay a comfortable one, just call on us." Source: Max Johnson, "Race with Stork ends at Provident". Baltimore Afro-American, 25 May 1968, p. 18.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 94.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 258–259.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 259–260.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 95
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 99–102
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 103
- "The Scene at ZIP Code 20013.", Time magazine, 24 May 1968, p. 34: "Resurrection City even boasted the ultimate insignia of identity: a ZIP code number (20013)."
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 357.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 359–361.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), pp. 361–362.
- Jenkins, Ruth (25 May 1968). "Life for poor is hard at 'Resurrection City', too.". Baltimore Afro-American. p. 18. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 114–115
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 115–116
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 116–117
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 117
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 122–123
- Risen, Nation on Fire (2009), p. 233
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), pp. 123–125
- Journalist and Ph.D. in African American and Latino history
- Mantler, Black, Brown and Poor (2008), p. 1.
- Mantler, Black, Brown and Poor (2008), p. 3.
- "Resurrection City Friction Developing". Bonham Daily Favorite. UPI. 27 May 1968. p. 1. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 119–120
- "Resurrection City: Poverty Marchers Mired in Mud". Montreal Gazette. UPI. May 29, 1968. p. 25. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Kotz, Nick (2005). "Epilogue: The Legacy". Judgment days : Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the laws that changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 422. ISBN 0-618-08825-3.
- Mossman, B.C. (1991). "XXVIII: Senator Robert F. Kennedy". The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals 1921–1969. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army. Retrieved 19 July 2012. More than one of
- "50,000 Hear Leader of Poor Vow to Keep Resurrection City in Capital: Cheer Made By King's Widow for End of War". Toledo Blade. AP. 20 June 1968. pp. 1, 8. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- McKnight, ‘’Last Crusade’’ (1998), p. 133
- "Poor People's Permit Runs Out: Negroes Vow to Remain". Lodi News-Sentinel. UPI. 24 June 1968. pp. 1, 2. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- "Resurrection City Seized by Police Without Clash". Milwaukee Journal. Press Dispatches. 24 June 1968. pp. 1, 9. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- "Showdown Looming on Resurrection City". News and Courier. AP. 23 June 1968. p. 9C. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Estimates range from 1000 (Montreal Gazette) to 1500 (Milwaukee Journal).
- "Police close down Resurrection City, arrest 288". Montreal Gazette. CP. 25 June 1968. p. 1. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- "Capital Calm After Shutdown of Resurrection City". Miami News. AP. 25 June 1968. p. 2-A. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Wright, Unfinished Business (2007), p. 47.
- Risen, Nation on Fire (2009), pp. 239–240
- Blobaum, Dean (16 October 2011). "A Chronology". Chicago '68. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
- "Resurrection City Set Up". Bangor Daily News. AP. 10 July 1972. p. 5. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Honey, Michael K. Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis strike, Martin Luther King's last campaign. New York: Norton, 2007. ISBN 9780393043396.
- Mantler, Gordon Keith. Black, Brown and Poor: Martin Luther King Jr., the Poor People's Campaign, and its legacies. Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History in the Graduate School of Duke University. 2008.
- McKnight, Gerald. The last crusade: Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People's Campaign. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998. ISBN 9780813333847.
- Risen, Clay. A nation on fire : America in the wake of the King assassination. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. ISBN 9780470177105.
- Wright, Amy Nathan. Civil Rights' "Unfinished Business": Poverty, Race, and the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. Dissertation presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin. August, 2007.
- Weekend America: Resurrection City
- March commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Poor People's Campaign
- Memphis Civil Rights Digital Archive
- "Poor People's Campaign", King Encyclopedia
- Class Resurrection: The Poor People's Campaign of 1968 and Resurrection City
- John Blake. King's final crusade: The radical push for a new America. CNN, 2008-04-01
- Poor People's Campaign
- Photographs of the Poor People's Campaign by photojournalist Ken Heinen
- Photographs of Resurrection City hosted by Emory University's SCLC Archives
- Video clip from King's speech on 4 December 1967 announcing the Campaign