In the years prior to King’s assassination, his sights began to shift towards thinking how a true Beloved Community might be realized in his present world. The pathway to this concept rested in need to escalate the concerns of civil rights, to a need for human rights. The words of his sermons and writings would begin to challenge even more, daring to make claims that Poor Blacks and Poor Whites had more in common with each other, than Poor Blacks had with Rich Blacks or Poor Whites had with Rich Whites. Despite a system that systematically proved otherwise, dismantling poverty, King exclaimed, was the key to removing the systems of racism, militarism, and economic injustice on America.1
On March 14, 1968, alongside leaders in the Chicano movement, White coal miners, First Nation and Puerto Rican activists, students, educators, and a host of others representatives of poor from across the country, the Minority Group Conference assembled and initiated the work of the 1968 The Poor People’s Campaign.2 This was an interfaith, interstate, inter-race/ethnicity cause focused on escalating the battle of civil rights to one of nationwide human rights, an effort that many hail as the primary reason King was assassinated. While a number of actions and legislative victories were achieved, the national campaign was unable to sustain its impact after King’s assassination.
Last October, at Stone Temple Baptist Church, that vision of a collective centered on the elimination of poverty, reemerged in Illinois as part of a national new Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The legacy of the Minority Group Conference continues in a new national effort continuing to eradicate three primary evils that plagued society in the 1960’s, and presently today: Systemic Poverty, systems that sustain and prevent escape from poverty (unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, slums); Systematic Racism, embedded social-societal systems that perpetuate oppression to individuals based on identity (racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against disabled groups); and a War Economy, economic systems that resource billions of dollars annually into weaponry and funding of wars, yet comparatively minute resources towards the most impacted, including those whom have served the country, while additionally funding the militarization of police forces in the country.3
The current iteration of the campaign also adds the need to break down Ecological Devastation, systems that allow businesses and municipalities to propagate realities like lead in water, toxic waste, and other environmental safeguards to be circumvented at the expense of poor communities. And undergirding all these precepts, is a distorted moral narrative wrapped in an American fascism and religious distortion that blames the poor for their own circumstances and inability to escape their bondage.
Clergy, lay leaders, and staff from Community Renewal Society and a host of other organizations have been actively involved in planning and development stages of this crucial campaign. For our 2018 Day of Faith at the Capitol, CRS has chosen to uplift the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival for the afternoon rally at the state capitol. We stand to see hundreds from CRS congregations across the Chicagoland area, and equally as many from the Poor People’s Campaign as we make known the testimonies of those who bear the pain of poverty, call out the distorted narrative, and have a moment of “Holy Discontent” at the state capital, foreshadowing when Illinois and 40 states across the country initiate a series of Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Actions to disrupt the narrative around poverty in the US beginning May 14.
Beloved community does not come easy, nor does it come quickly. Yet it is still worthy of labor. As of this writing, over 984 people, from more than 150 zip codes; from multiple Christian denominations, multiple faith backgrounds and those of no faith background at all; Black, White, Brown, many ethnicities and races; and those of all gender identities, have coalesced under the banner of seeing this new endeavor take root and last. I eagerly look forward to experiencing what God is doing through this new movement. It is time for a moral revival.
1 “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (King Legacy): Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Vincent Harding, Coretta Scott King: 9780807000670: Amazon.com: Books.” Accessed March 22, 2018.
2 Mantler, Gordon. Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974. New edition edition. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
3 “The King Philosophy | The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change,” The King Center, accessed June 1, 2017.