“The problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
*As our nation prepares for this weekend’s rescheduled dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC let us take a moment to spotlight the tragically-relevant economic aspect of Dr. King’s mission.
In the 43 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated and the 28 years since his birthday became a national holiday, conservative forces have tried to water down the scope of King’s words and work, so that he seems little more than a lofty idealist who dreamed of an America where people of different races were nice to each other. But Martin Luther King, Jr. was a radical reformer, a revolutionary who exposed the wicked hypocrisy of our nation and sought to change the United States at the foundational level. And that change, King declared, had to be economic as well as racial.
For Dr. King, the fight to end racial discrimination and segregation was always linked with the struggle against economic exploitation. One of the demands of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott (the milestone protest that brought Dr. King into the Civil Rights Movement) was the hiring of black bus drivers. The 1963 March on Washington was organized and billed as a demonstration for “Jobs and Freedom.” And Dr. King was planning his Poor People’s Campaign when he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee while supporting a garbage workers’ strike.
In his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” Dr. King laid out a bold blueprint for the economic “restructuring of the whole of American society.” Rejecting the conservative notion that unfettered market forces lead to jobs and prosperity for the masses, Dr. King stated:
“Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will… We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.”
Dr. King was convinced that the federal government had the responsibility and the means to eliminate poverty. King pushed for a government program that would “guarantee income” and he spoke radically about synthesizing the best elements of the world’s two competing economic philosophies. Dr. King argued: “…communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis…that combines the truth of both”
The urgency of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s economic advocacy is striking during these bleak times of longterm unemployment, soaring poverty rates and widespread home foreclosures. So, the dedication of the King Memorial in DC will be incomplete unless our nation commits itself to pursuing the economic justice which Dr. King called for and which is so desperately needed during these dangerous times.
Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.
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