Martin Luther King Day 1998:
class must 'yield to the mandates of
By Allen Harris
This month brings the 69th birthday of Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
This year brings the 30th anniversary of the
Campaign, which King was to have led in May
1968 in Washington.
Instead, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968
When the bourgeoisie looks back on King, it
likes to focus on the
man who was a Southern Negro preacher, a
tremendous orator and
drum major for justice. All of which is
entirely true. There was no
one else like him.
But the rulers don't dwell on the last years of
King's life, when his
vision was no longer that of a Southern Negro
seeking racial equality
but of an American seeking economic justice on
a national level.
King's focus was on poverty and his perspective
was turning away
from color and toward class.
"Our economy must become more person-centered
property-centered and profit-centered," King
said in late 1967.
When the civil rights movement marched on
Washington in 1963 to
press for passage of the bill President Kennedy
had introduced, the
leaders were welcomed by the ruling class.
Five years later, when King proposed a campaign
disobedience in the same city to demand relief
from the oppression
of poverty, the White House and Congress were
The program of the Poor People's Campaign
called for spending $30
billion a year to eliminate poverty. At the
very least, it called for
Congress to enact legislation for full
employment, a guaranteed
annual income and the construction of 500,000
units per year.
Again, the contrast with the March on
Washington could not be
clearer. In 1963, the government rolled out the
red carpet for the
marchers. In 1968, when the Poor People's
Campaign came --
without King -- the demonstrators lived in a
muddy shanty on the
Mall called Resurrection City.
For two months they lived there, demonstrating
and marching on the
various federal departments and being ignored.
Finally the police
drove out the Poor People's Campaign in a raid.
King said in late 1967: "We've got to make it
known that until our
problem is solved, America may have many, many
days, but they will
be full of trouble. There will be no rest,
there will be no tranquility in
this country until the nation comes to terms
with our problem."
He also said: "Something is wrong with
capitalism as it now stands in
the United States. We are not interested in
being integrated into this
value structure. Power must be relocated, a
radical redistribution of
power must take place. ...
"We must formulate a program and we must
fashion the new tactics
which do not count on government good will, but
unwilling authorities to yield to the mandates
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