I, like many Americans born after the Civil Rights movement, learned about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr through a page or two in my history book and hearing “I have a Dream…” repeated around this time each year in school. In the past 40 years, I feel the message of who Dr. King was and what he stood for has been intentionally lost. Hear me out.
Our society nowadays likes to have snippets and blurbs presented to us in quick social media posts and funny one-image memes, of which you’ll find in abundance this time of year. For many people, the only exposure to MLK Jr. are these 34 words spoken famously in Washington DC at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, ” I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” You can expect to see portions of this speech in snippets and tweets throughout this week but I encourage you to learn beyond the dream speech and see what Dr. King was pushing us towards as a country when he was assassinated. A good place to start is by reading Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and then the book To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice. These are primers and I guarantee will leave you wanting to learn more of what you haven’t been told.
The passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 seems to be where most people (including history books) like to end Dr. King’s story (up until his assassination in 1968). Why is this? Perhaps because the change Dr. King was advocating for in later years isn’t as “clean and tidy” as simply remembering him for the civil rights advocacy work that he is now widely associated with. Dr. King himself said that the work culminating in the Civil Rights and Voting Act was just the “first phase” of the freedom movement. His focus on the struggle for economic equality found him stirring up class issues across the country, from calling out the government’s use of poor American’s to fight a needless war in Vietnam to support of striking garbage workers. Dr. King was trying to accomplish what he knew was an extremely hard task, overcoming classism in America and create an everlasting change in people’s economic and social conditions. He advocated for everyone to be able to have a well-paying job, a basic level of income, decent healthcare, education, and housing. Dr. King, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference created the Poor People’s Campaign to gain economic justice for multi-cultural poor people in America.
Here’s another quote, from Dr. King’s “Other America” speech in 1968, weeks before his death. “One America is beautiful for situation… millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair… They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
It’s now time for us to carry on the unfinished work of Dr. King. Join StarkFresh and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Over the past year, we’ve been meeting with others in Canton, Ohio and having real, honest discussions on race and the work that has been done historically to keep people poor people separate in their poverty. We are committed to bringing awareness of systematic injustices that are part of our local history and through this combined knowledge, looking to craft new avenues and pathways out of poverty, together. Stay tuned to hear more from StarkFresh as we continue our part in using our voice to raise up others, together. We think Dr. King would have approved.
-Tom Phillips, Executive Director, StarkFresh