SPECIAL ON MLK PART 1 - Flipbook - Page 3
On Apr. 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while assisting striking
Back then, over a half century ago, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just
beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only
obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.
African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for
That was then
The 1960s were tumultuous years indeed. During the long, hot summers from 1965 to 1968, American cities
saw approximately 150 race riots and other uprisings. The protests were a sign of profound citizen anger about a
nation that was, according to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, “moving toward two
societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
Economically, that was certainly true. In 1968, just 10% of white people lived below the poverty level, while
nearly 34% of African-Americans did. Likewise, just 2.6% of white job seekers were unemployed, compared
to 6.7% of black job seekers.
“Resurrection City” in May 1969. Photo by Henry Zbyszynski via Wikimedia Commons
A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to “dramatize the plight
of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
On May 28, 1968, one month after King’s assassination, the mass anti-poverty march took place. Individuals from
across the nation erected a tent city on the National Mall, in Washington, calling it Resurrection City. The aim
was to bring attention to the problems associated with poverty.
Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend’s place.
“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been
given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity,” Abernathy said, “and we will stay until we get it.”
This is now
So, how far have black people progressed since
1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those
questions have been on my mind a lot this month.
In some ways, we’ve barely budged as a people.
Poverty is still too common in the U.S. In 1968, 25
million Americans — roughly 13 percent of the
population — lived below poverty level. In
2016, 43.1 million – or more than 12.7% – did.
Today’s black poverty rate of 21% is almost three
times that of whites. Compared to the 1968 rate
of 32%, there’s not been a huge improvement.