With statements like these, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated the philosophy that propelled his pursuit of social justice.
From the beginning, Dr. King’s struggle against racial segregation and discrimination was interlocked with the struggle against economic exploitation.
Hiring of black bus drivers was one of the demands of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the milestone protest that brought Dr. King into the Civil Rights Movement. The 1963 March on Washington was organized as a demonstration for “Jobs and Freedom.” And Dr. King was planning the Poor People’s Campaign when he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, while supporting a garbage collector’s 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.” Arguing that American corporate practices and U.S. government policy colluded to maintain poverty for millions of Americans, King declared: “We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Rejecting the conservative principle that unfettered market forces lead to jobs and prosperity for the masses, Dr. King stated 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…no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was firm in his belief that the federal government had not only the means, but also the responsibility to eliminate poverty. King pushed for a government program of “guaranteed income” and he spoke radically about blending the best elements of the world’s two competing economic philosophies.
Dr. King contended: “…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, widespread home foreclosures, plummeting wages and soaring poverty rates. Our national tributes to Dr. King will be incomplete until our nation commits to pursuing the economic justice which Dr. King called for and which is so desperately needed today.
Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.