Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By: Jerry Rubin  and Joe Zeff

 

As we prepare to remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, it is important to remember him not only as a great champion of racial justice, but also as a champion of economic justice. In his famous “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, King said, “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity… In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check…that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

His last public speech, delivered a day before his 1968 assassination, was before a Memphis audience in support of a lengthy strike for fair wages among its largely Black sanitation workers. In that speech he declared, “It’s all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism, but ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.” Dr. King was in Memphis to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, a broad social justice movement, which turned out to be his last. While in Memphis his focus was on jobs, pay and working conditions.

Less than two months before his death wrote an important but lesser-known economic justice paper that declared that African Americans were “locked up in an economic underworld of poverty, joblessness, and unemployment,” King advocated for all of America’s poor people to unite in a common cause, one that should not be characterized as “charity” but “justice.” Calling for “an economic and social Bill of Rights,” King called for every American capable of working to receive a guaranteed job, for poverty to be eliminated through the provision of a universal income, for slums and racialized neighborhoods to become a thing of the past, and for every child to have access to a quality education.

While we certainly have a long way to go to achieve Dr. King’s vision of racial justice, we perhaps have an even longer way to go to achieve economic justice and the kind of country and world he dreamed of. Whether you are engaging in volunteer work, joining a King memorial breakfast, or taking some personal time over the long weekend, we urge you to take a moment to reflect on Dr. King’s dream, what we’ve achieved since his assassination, and how much more we must do.

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