I assigned the students to view episode 4 of Eyes on the Prize and a film called At the River I Stand produced by the Memphis State University Dept. of Theater and Communication Arts.(Both are available for streaming through Santa Clara University’s Library website.) Eyes on the Prize summarizes Dr. Martin Luther King’s rise to prominence as a leader of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. At the River I Stand documents the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike and King’s last campaign, that for economic equality. King was murdered before the Poor People’s Campaign’s March on Washington that he was involved in organizing could occur. The march began in May 1968. Bayard Rustin drafted a Poor People’s Bill of Rights which demanded that the federal Government:
- Recommit to the Full Employment Act of 1946 and legislate the immediate creation of at least one million socially useful career jobs in public service;
- Adopt the pending Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968;
- Repeal the 90th Congress’s punitive welfare restrictions in the 1967 Social Security Act;
- Extend to all farm workers the right—guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act – to organize agricultural labor unions;
- Restore budget cuts for bilingual education, Head Start, summer jobs, Economic Opportunity Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Acts. (The list and the links credited to Wikipedia, Poor People’s Campaign article).
The campaign culminated in Resurrection City, a three thousand person protest camp on the Washington Mall that remained for six weeks. The campaign was undermined by J. Edgar Hoover’s POCAM program of disruption, the FBI’s Ghetto Informant Program and false accusations of Communist leadership. The protesters were evicted in late June by militarized local police and the National Guard. No Economic Bill of Rights has ever been recognized by our government. Margalynne Armstrong
This photo of Dr. King is in the public domain.