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We Can’t Forget Dr. King’s Fight For Economic Justice and Equality

As today’s celebration of  Martin Luther King Jr.’s 85th birthday inevitably focuses on his “I Have a Dream” speech, perhaps more attention should be paid to his fight for economic equality—particularly  when the country has experienced such an unprecedented increase in economic inequality in recent decades.

There will be parades and marches today highlighting King’s crucially important message of racial justice, with additional scrutiny given to a recording discovered in Tennessee in 2012 of an interview King did with a local Chattanooga man. In the tape King discussed how much credit President  John Kennedy deserved for getting him out of jail in 1960.

But there will be fewer speeches and programs dedicated to King’s quest for economic justice that he began to focus on later in his life. In the year before he was killed, King was working on the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign.

MSNBC compiled a list of some of King’s proposals to end racial inequality that have not received a great deal of media attention. They include:

1. Ratify an economic bill of rights

King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) in 1968 drafted a letter demanding “an economic and social bill of rights” that would promise all citizens the right to a job, the right to an adequate education, and the right to a decent house, among others.

The idea echoed one made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his 1944 State of the Union address, when he called for a “second Bill of Rights” that would guarantee all citizens a “useful and remunerative job” and “adequate medical care.”

2. Guarantee everyone a basic income, no strings attached

King thought each of us should have a livable income, whether or not we had a job. In fact, according to MSNBC, he called for unconditional cash transfers to every American citizen in 1968 “pegged to the median income of society, not at the lowest levels of income.”

This idea echoed one proposed by Republican President Richard Nixon, who unveiled the Family Assistance Plan to the nation in 1969, which failed in part because some on the left thought his offer of $1,600 per year for each family of four was not ambitious enough.

According to MSNBC, the nation of Switzerland will soon be voting on a referendum to guarantee every Swiss citizen a monthly check worth $2,800USD.

3. Build a powerful labor movement

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress,” King told the Illinois State AFL-CIO in 1965. “Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life.”

4. Guarantee a job to anyone who can work

“I hope that a specific number of jobs is set forth, that a program will emerge to abolish unemployment, and that there will be another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level,” King wrote shortly before his death.


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One thought on “We Can’t Forget Dr. King’s Fight For Economic Justice and Equality

  1. Theresa 'Tammie' Parrott says:

    We as a country always talk about Dr. Kings dream, when convenient, his birthday. But what about the other 364 days in the year? Black people are especially hypocrites. Why do I say that? I say that because we allow those that want to blast Dr. Kings "I Have a Dream Speech" and ignore all his other speeches.

    He had many more speeches that apply today. I think his speeches didn't only apply to black americans, but black people around the world, especially when economic equality is talked about. The entire global economic system doesn't only affect blacks in america. Like it or not, most of us are descendants of the continient of Africa, no matter how long ago it was. How can we as black people in America not speak out against the racism, capitalism and imperialism that is still happening today. How long after Dr. Kings speech did Nelson Mandela spend in prison. Just a few years before Dr. King was killed, Patrice Lumumba was killed in Congo because he wanted the same thing for the people of Congo, the same thing Mandela wanted for the people in South Africa.

    We don't dare speak out about what is happening to the Palestinians. What about the trade deals that DEMOCRATS, not republicans signed off on. Clinton, NAFTA, Obama, TPP? These trade deals not only affect black people but middle class and poor people. What about the people in the Middle East who are dying at the hands of the same people who created the unequal ecomomic system in the first place.

    What did Dr. King say? "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere!" The UN want to try African leaders for war crimes, but no leader from the west. That's racism!

    We have assimulated into the same world that Dr. King fought against. We worship money, material things. There are ministers that care more about prosperity than humanity. We have been indoctrinated into this evil system. When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with flees!

    Our generation has done nothing for huminity. We are ignoring our brothers and sisters dying at sea trying to escape poverty. Your government has a had in this just like they had a had in the influx of drugs and guns into the black community in the 80's. The influx of drugs and guns, the war on drugs and the prison pipeline all happened under Ronald Reagan. The war against communism was really against people in the world who refused the evil, racist capitialism and imperialism that has killed so many people of color.

    The unfair economic and equality system that exist today is not only against black people, it's against everyone in the world, except the people who created it.

    How was America created? With racism and guns. What is destroying the continient of Africa? Racism and guns. All around the world guns, guns, guns! America, Britian, France, Israel, UK. The Federal Reserve, IMF and the World Bank.

    Blacks in America will never be free until we ALL are free of the unfair economic and injustices that exist in the world today.

    We need to make our voices heard and stand for what is right. To many died for the rights that we all enjoy today. They left some thing for us to build on, not assimulate into the evil system that fought against. Let's leave something for our children and grandchilden to build on. That's what Dr. King would have wanted.

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