Explore some of the letters, speeches, and materials from this historic movement.
Organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Poor People's Campaign mobilized tens of thousands of people across the country to demand economic justice in 1968.
Said King: "America is at a crossroads of history, and it is critically important for us as a nation and a society to choose a new path and move upon it with resolution and courage. In this age of technological wizardry and political immorality, the poor are demanding that the basic needs of people be met as the first priority of our domestic program."
AFSC was one of the principal endorsers of the Poor People's Campaign.
Early on, King sought help from AFSC, citing his gratitude for "the devotion, cooperation and help accorded us in the past by the AFSC." AFSC’s Barbara Moffet worked directly with King and SCLC to develop the campaign's platform. As AFSC and other organizers from 10 cities and five rural areas strategized and gathered supplies, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Organizers decided to continue the campaign in King’s honor, and AFSC and other organizers mobilized people across the country to come to Washington, D.C. for two weeks of protest, including setting up a shantytown known as "Resurrection City."
The campaign united people from many backgrounds across the country, who presented their plan to lawmakers in Washington and urged them to work toward solutions. Under the "economic bill of rights," the Poor People's Campaign asked for the federal government to prioritize helping the poor with a $30 billion anti-poverty package that included a commitment to full employment, a guaranteed annual income measure, and more low-income housing.
But by mid-June of 1968, Resurrection City was closed down, and many protesters had been arrested, including AFSC's Stephen Cary. The economic bill of rights was never passed.
Cary later wrote: "I supposed the Poor People's Campaign will be judged to have failed. Certainly, it has not produced the jobs and income that were its goal. But it did prove three things: It has made poverty in America visible, and never again will it be possible to pretend that it is not real. It created a coalition of the poor. It has improved the administration of existing legislation and stimulated new legislation in which [people of many backgrounds] have all seen for the first time the common nature of their problems and have joined together to deal with them."