Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. saw economic justice as one of the pillars of his civil rights struggle. He understood that for African Americans, the ties of poverty were as strong as segregation and racial discrimination.
That is why it is fair to remember that lesser known aspect of the civil rights leader, 85 years after his birth. The theme of “dislocations in the market operation of our economy” was present in his message against unemployment. He also said that, “no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.”
The economic structure that King criticized in 1967 in his speech “Where Do We Go From Here” has been strengthening throughout the decades. Today, civil rights in general are on a par for all, although that is an ongoing struggle. However, economic inequality along racial lines remains as firm as ever.
According to the 2013 United for a Fair Economy report, there are strong disparities in wealth and savings between white families and African American and Latino families. At the same time, another PEW Charitable Trusts study showed that 70% of Americans born at the bottom of the income ladder never move up.
It is true that there are African Americans and Latinos who are able to get ahead and achieve economic success. But they are the exception, not the norm.
Back in his time, King saw the impact of economic inequality. The call during his famous march on Washington in 1963 was for “Jobs and Freedom,” while a campaign against poverty and in support of sanitation workers took him to Memphis, where he was murdered.
In this time of high and long-term unemployment, foreclosed homes, record economic disparity and a deficient tax system, we remember Martin Luther King. His struggle for this type of justice is still alive.