Week 5: Poverty: A Moral Dilemma
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50 weeks of Action Archive


Week 5: Poverty: A Moral Dilemma

Week FIVE 
Poverty: A Moral Dilemma
Dr. King visited Marks, MS to prepare for the Poor People's Campaign. He was deeply moved by the testimony he heard there, and Marks became the launching point for one of the caravans to Resurrection City in D.C. (Creative Commons)
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched a new phase of the Civil Rights Movement focused on economic justice. While the Movement had won victories in desegregation and voting rights, King said it had done little to vanquish poverty. The rate of poverty in the U.S. in 1967 was roughly 12%, but for African Americans, it was more than double that. African Americans suffered much higher rates of unemployment, illiteracy and malnourishment than whites. As long as African Americans remained poor, they would never really be free, King declared. What was needed, he said, was "a radical redistribution of economic and political power."  
King blamed poverty, and the shortcomings of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty undermined by the Vietnam War, for the 1967 summer of riots in poor black neighborhoods in cities like Watts, Detroit and Newark. After visiting Marks, MS to meet the nation's poorest, King announced the Poor People's Campaign December 4, 1967 to bring the poor to Washington, DC, to demand economic justice. Reaching out to Appalachian whites, Native Americans and Mexicans, among many other groups, King was intent on bringing a diverse movement to Washington to demonstrate that poverty was not simply a "Negro" problem. (1)
Infographic on poverty and effects on the brain (Source: Social Work Degree Center)
We still face alarming poverty in the U.S. where economic disparity is oppressive with the richest 1% owning half of the global wealth. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Children are hit the hardest. (2)  We face a moral dilemma, not just an economic one.  
Leaders like Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays are calling for a New Poor People's Campaign.  Barber states, "This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic poverty and racism, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable." (3)  Regardless of your economic status, what role will you play in the new movement?
(1) King's Last March, "New Front in the Fight for Freedom." American RadioWorks
(2) Infographic from "How Poverty Burdens the Brain," Social Work Degree Center.
(3) "Rev. Barber: America needs a new Poor People's Campaign," May 15, 2017. ThinkProgress.com 
  1. Watch this video of Dr. King speaking about poverty while in Mississippi for the Poor People's Campaign.  
  2. Watch historian Taylor Branch and theologian James Cone talking on what motivated Dr. King's fight in the Poor People's Campaign on the Moyers & Company show.
  3. During the Poor People's Campaign, SCLC developed an Economic Bill of Rights. List 3 things that should be in a similar manifesto today and share them on our 50 Weeks of Action Facebook Group page.
What is poverty? 
People that live in poverty have little or no money and few or no material possessions. They may find it hard to meet their basic needs.
In 1967, Dr. King announced that he wanted people in poverty to meet in Washington to march for better jobs, better homes, and better education. He wanted ALL people to have better lives.
  1. To learn more about poverty and how you can help, read the book Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, or listen as the book is read aloud here.
  2. Check out this video called "Kids Respond to Child Hunger" to learn about some ways that you can help people living in poverty.
What can you do to help fight hunger?   Click below for more.
What ideas do you have to spark the modern day Civil Rights Movement? What stories of your past can help us today and in the future? Share your civil rights stories with us. Your ideas and your stories matter.  #MLK50