Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) of 1968 - a new book from Dr Robert Hamilton

Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) of 1968

We are very pleased to announce the publication of ‘Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) of 1968’, authored by Dr Robert Hamilton, a long-time member of CR&DALL at the University of Glasgow.

The book was published in January 2021 by the University of Georgia Press as part of the Morehouse College Book Series on Civil Rights and Human Rights. Dr Hamilton draws on primary source documents and oral testimonies from seven archives. The book introduces new audiences to the last days of Dr King and one of his major projects, which was carried forward by his successors--the multi-racial Poor People's Campaign (PPC) of 1968. This campaign has often been undervalued and misunderstood, and the main aim of the book is to revalue and reflect on that initiative. The author looks at the campaign in part as an educational exercise: the campaign was planned and worked out not only to develop a new form of social protest but also as an instrument for the participants to expand their social knowledge and understanding. With that focus, the importance of the campaign is considerably more obvious.

As well as being a civil rights advocate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr consistently called for human rights for all. He opposed poverty, racism, and war as part of an analysis, which viewed inequality not only in American but also in global terms. In order to address poverty and related human rights issues, King proposed a Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). In May 1968, only weeks after King’s assassination, the PPC saw thousands of poor people travel to Washington DC to protest against poverty.

The activists came to Washington from all over America and included blacks, whites, Puerto-Ricans, Mexican-Americans and Native Americans in their ranks. The demonstrators occupied sacred space in the nation’s capital by building a temporary community, known as Resurrection City. During preparations for the PPC and in Washington, the activists drew on a rich legacy of adult education from previous civil rights campaigns.

The approaches adopted by PPC participants were innovative and represented alternatives to conventional educational practices. These included Freedom Schools, a Poor People’s University, workshops, marches and demonstrations, which assisted the protesters to come together in coalition to challenge dominant hegemonic narratives concerning the causes, nature and scope of poverty. They also lobbied Congress and provided personal testimonies at Senate hearings. Although ultimately unsuccessful in its aspiration to end economic injustice in America, the PPC arguably laid the seeds for future anti-poverty activism. Their camp in Washington can be seen for example as a precursor of the 21st century Occupy Wall Street movement.

In his book, Dr, Hamilton depicts the experiences of the poor people who traveled to Washington in May 1968 to dramatize the issue of poverty. The narrative allows us to hear their voices and understand the strategies, objectives, and organization of the campaign. In addition, the author frames the PPC as an initiative whose example can teach and inspire current and future generations. The book highlights why King’s ideas should be brought to the attention of a wider public who often view him almost exclusively as a civil rights, but not a human rights, leader. In the decades since 1968, we have seen increasing global inequality leading to greater social polarization, including in the United States.

The author offers the insight that the radical politics of Dr. King-as represented in the civil rights and human rights agendas of the PPC-can help us understand and address the challenges of this polarization. The study thus situates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and teachings in relation to current events and further solidifies Dr. King's cultural and socio-political relevance.

CR&DALL congratulates Robert on this excellent work. The book can be purchased by following this link.