Today, January 15 was the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Not only was he a powerful advocate for civil rights, he was also an advocate for the rights of workers and the rights of the poor. This year is the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of war against poverty and so it is fitting to reflect on Martin Luther King’s belief that poverty was a civil rights issue. The gap between rich and poor has continued to grow and there are efforts to shred the safety net that keeps people from starving to death.
The night before his assassination in Memphis, he was giving a speech to striking sanitation workers, supporting them in their struggle for better pay and safer working conditions after two workers were crushed to death by a truck.
On his last birthday in 1968 he was working on something called the Poor People’s Campaign. One of his last speeches was in Grosse Pointe, Michigan where he pointed out that many poor people are working every day, but for low wages.
“The problem of unemployment is not the only problem. There is a problem of underemployment, and there are thousands and thousands, I would say millions of people in the Negro community who are poverty-stricken – not because they are not working, but because they receive wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the main stream of the economic life of our nation. Most of the poverty-stricken people of America are persons who are working every day, and they end up getting part-time wages for full-time work.”
Martin Luther King Jr. certainly had a dream of racial equality, but he was also dreaming of economic justice for all.
p.s. his favorite pie was pecan!