Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974

By Gordon K. Mantler | Go to book overview

5 Race and Resurrection City

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Memphis on April 3 triumphantly, delivering the powerful and soulful “Mountaintop” speech in which he seemed to predict his own death. Less than twenty-four hours later, stunning the nation and the world, an assassin’s bullets martyred the civil rights leader at age thirty-nine. Among those trying to comprehend was Kay Shannon and her colleagues at the Washington office of the Poor People’s Campaign, all of whom at first believed the news to be a cruel joke. Informed by an anonymous caller, she accepted it only after talking to an SCLC representative in Atlanta—sparking a mix of tears and resentment among the staff members present. “The girl next to me, who was black, started to cry and I put my arms around her because I was feeling the same way,” Shannon recalled. “She turned to me and she saw that I was white and she immediately turned away, and I had this… ache because I knew that we were going to be confronted with that situation from then on.”1

Indeed, King’s assassination on April 4 in Memphis threatened to disrupt not just fragile black-white relations but most of what he had sought in the last months of his life—new alliances, increased public sympathy toward the poor, and a renewed dedication to nonviolent strategy. In the days that followed, black anger and frustration boiled over in more than a hundred cities. Of course, the mistrust and rage of African Americans toward whites and the “system” had translated into civil disorders every spring and summer since Harlem erupted in 1964. But King’s death compounded that anger and frustration. While less deadly than Watts and Detroit, the unrest of April 1968 touched more cities and produced more property damage, arrests, and injuries than any other time in the 1960s. Chicago, Baltimore, and the nation’s capital, once deemed “riot-proof,” were particularly hard hit.2

Conventional wisdom might suggest that King’s death and the ensuing street violence should have prevented the campaign as planned from

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Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Abbreviations in the Text xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- The "Rediscovery" of Poverty 15
  • 2- First Experiments 40
  • 3- War, Power, and the New Politics 65
  • 4- Poverty, Peace, and King’s Challenge 90
  • 5- Race and Resurrection City 121
  • 6- Multiracial Efforts, Intra-Racial Gains 154
  • 7- The Limits of Coalition 186
  • 8- Making the 1970s 208
  • Epilogue- Poverty, Coalition, and Identity Politics 242
  • Notes 249
  • Bibliography 313
  • Acknowledgments 341
  • Index 345
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