By exploring the historical connections between the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Occupy (We are the 99%) movementsnationwide, educators can create an important teachable moment to paint a more holistic picture of King’s legacy in terms of his fight for economic justice in America.
The original August 28 date for the Memorial’s dedication commemorated the famous 1963 “March on Washington.” The official name, “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” is often forgotten amid the celebration of the phrase “I Have a Dream” from his famed speech.
Similarly, textbooks and media often skim over the Poor People’s Campaign, organized by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference beginning in 1967. The Poor People’s Campaign culminated after King’s death when demonstrators set up a shantytown called “Resurrection City” in DC for two weeks to protest for an economic bill of rights focusing on jobs, income and housing.
Today, thousands of people are occupying Wall Street and the rest of the country to get corporate money out of politics and for socio-economic justice. They echo the demands of the 1960s, often through reiterations of language and nonviolent actions similar to Dr. King’s.
Youth should know that while inclement weather delayed the original dedication, the rescheduled dedication for Sunday, October 16 coincides with a national movement that mirrors the dreams and actions of activists from the 1960s. Masses of engaged and concerned Americans are occupying the streets to stand up for economic and social justice for every American.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial stands as one commemoration of Dr. King’s life as an activist and organizer. Despite the negative media portrayals, King’s spirit is also commemorated in the hearts and actions of these people who are working towards the world they envision for themselves.
Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching includes lessons, essays, and other resources that make the connection between the struggle for economic justice and the Civil Rights Movement. One example is the lesson “Hidden in Plain Sight: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Radical Vision.”