Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economic Justice Vision

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was as committed to economic justice as he was to ending segregation. 

And yet, Dr. King’s speeches on economic justice and eradicating poverty are still not as well known as his speeches on racial discrimination.  These speeches, about helping the poorest Americans, regardless of race, speak to problems that the nation is still struggling with 40 years later. 

As the nation deals with rising unemployment and an ongoing debate about the need for an economic recovery plan, we have an opportunity to take second look at some of these lesser-known speeches:

“The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for “the least of these.” – The Quest for Peace and Justice, December 11, 1964.

“But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. And it’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.” – The Other America, April 14, 1967.

“…this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” – Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, March 31, 1968.