Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Stanford University on April 14, 1967.
In the final weeks of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. increasingly turned his focus to Americans plagued by poverty – “the other America.” King proclaims:
Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?
Eugene Robinson, former assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, notes:
What King saw in 1968 — and what we all should recognize today — is that it is useless to try to address race without also taking on the larger issue of inequality. He was planning a poor people’s march on Washington that would include not only African-Americans but also Latinos, Native Americans and poor Appalachian whites. He envisioned a rainbow of the dispossessed, assembled to demand not just an end to discrimination but a change in the way the economy doles out its spoils.
King did not live to lead that demonstration, which ended up becoming the “Ressurection City” tent encampment on the National Mall. Protesters never won passage of the “economic bill of rights” they had sought.
Today, our society is much more affluent overall — and much more unequal. Since King’s death, the share of total U.S. income earned by the top 1 percent has more than doubled. Studies indicate there is less economic mobility in the United States than in most other developed countries. The American dream is in danger of becoming a distant memory.
Paying homage to King as one of our nation’s great civil rights leaders means remembering not just his soaring oratory about racial justice but his pointed words about economic justice as well. Inequality, he told us, threatens the well-being of the nation. Extending a hand to those in need only makes us stronger.
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