Karl Douglass: King's justice applied to economics

January 18, 2014 

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he was there to support Black sanitation workers who were on strike for better wages. Not quite five full years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. King was killed not for fighting for civil rights or voting rights; he was killed while fighting for economic justice.

Five years after declaring, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," Dr. King had re-imagined his dream.

In 1968, he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People's Campaign. The group built a "multiracial army of the poor" for a second March on Washington where Dr. King called on Congress to provide economic aid to poor communities and invest federal funds to rebuild inner cities. In a speech at the National Cathedral in Washington just days before his life was ended, Dr. King said, "Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor."

In the midst of our celebrations of Dr. King and his legacy, how often do we consider the primary work of his final years, the fight for economic justice for all? When we talk of "The Dream" still being alive, do we consider at all his dream to eradicate poverty?

As we hold up Dr. King's rich legacy of service and celebrate it in service -- "a day on, not a day off" -- each of us needs to understand the fullness of Dr. King's prophetic vision. At the end of the day, Dr. King determined that any person, no matter the race, creed or color, who did not have the ability to provide for those who depend on him or her could never enjoy full citizenship in this great nation no matter what constitutional rights they were granted.

That realization compelled him to seek economic justice for all and it should compel each of us to do the same. In that same 1968 speech at the National Cathedral, Dr. King said, "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."

In 2014, the question of whether we have the will still remains. As you prepare to celebrate Dr. King and make your annual pledge to "keep the dream alive," ask yourself if you have the will to help end poverty -- to seek economic justice for all. If enough of us find that the answer is yes, then we will truly begin to see Dr. King's dream being fulfilled.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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