We are moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said in an address in May of 1967. In the subsequent year — the last of his life — King began work on what he called the “Poor People’s Campaign,” a large-scale effort to raise the standard of living for the nation’s poor.
The initiative, organized by King in cooperation with the Southern Christian Leadership, served as an indictment of the federal War on Poverty, which had been going on for three years by then but had yet to produce many demonstrable gains.
It also reflected a reckoning with some of the limitations of the Civil Rights Movement. Even following legislative and other victories, material conditions for people of color were not improving. In a sense, King sought to broaden the scope of the movement by inviting the participation of other people of color and focusing on economic justice — ensuring that all Americans have their basic necessities met.
To advance the campaign, King traveled across the United States, meeting with activists, labor groups, and other social justice and community groups. The Poor People’s Campaign asked the federal government to pass a $30 billion anti-poverty bill, which would have guaranteed a basic income for all Americans.
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