warren leffler

5

Poor People’s Campaign, 1968.

Coretta Scott King with campaign organizers, Jack Rottier.

Demonstrators on the National Mall. Oliver F. Atkins 

Lafayette Park March, Warren Leffler.

The National Welfare Rights Organisation marching to end hunger, Jack Rottier.

——

By December of 1967, about forty percent of African-American and around fifteen percent of all Americans were living significantly below the poverty line. Most folks know that in response Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began organising a newnational campaign against poverty. The Poor People’s Campaign marked one of the biggest shifts in the Civil Rights movement, towards broad-scale economic justice.

After King’s assassination on April 4th, 1968, the SCLC and Coretta Scott King kept the movement going with the help of an incredibly diverse coalition of groups and individuals, from the National Welfare Rights Organisation, through United Auto Workers and the NYC chapter of the ‘Up Against The Wall [Motherfuckers]’ anarchists. By June, thousands of demonstrators thronged the National Mall demanding federal action on economic discrimination,

SCLC along with the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), demanded an ‘economic bill of rights’, which envisioned a thirty billion investment in employment programs, the provision of affordable housing and a guaranteed basic income. 

It didn’t work for a multitude of reasons: RFK was assassinated, the media played a shifty game, and egos and strategies inevitably conflicted, but the broad-scale drive to end poverty in America deserves a little more of our common memory space.