From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

By Thomas F. Jackson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Dreams of the Masses

John Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 by a narrow margin with black votes in key states, boosting Martin Luther King’s hopes for vigorous federal action to secure civil and economic rights. But the same political arithmetic that made the black vote so important worked to minimize its impact. Despite Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Congress remained locked down by conservative Democrats whose southern power base was disproportionately white and rural. So King looked to the president to take executive action to equalize opportunity and redress longstanding oppressions.

Kennedy’s inaugural address was filled with soaring rhetoric: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” He did not mention desegregation or civil rights. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” Kennedy promised, but he embraced a moderate Keynesian “New Economics” only in 1962, when the economy lurched into its sixth year of high unemployment. To the dismay of liberals and civil rights advocates, the president was consumed by foreign affairs and neglected domestic policy. In response to congressional concern about “depressed areas” spearheaded by Senator Paul Douglas, he supported the Area Redevelopment Act. Congress passed his Manpower Development and Training Act, as economists raised concerns about a glut of unskilled workers and a deficit of skilled workers. But these measures had limited reach and little punch.1

Ira Katznelson has ably summarized a growing scholarly consensus that white men and their dependents benefited disproportionately from the New Deal state, and that 1960s liberalism had a limited effect on the fragmented and multi-tiered structure of social insurance and public assistance that took shape in the 1940s. The conflicted and sclerotic alliance between southern conservatives and urban liberals that was the mid-century Democratic Party spoke a rhetoric of universal rights. But through a series of fatal compromises in which the southerners held inordinate power, the New Deal and the Fair Deal reinforced unequal social and economic contours of race, gender, and class. North and South, the dominant interests in the coalition willingly accepted

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From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Politics and Culture in Modern America ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Pilgrimage to Christian Socialism 25
  • Chapter 2 - The Least of These 51
  • Chapter 3 - Seed Time in the Winter of Reaction 75
  • Chapter 4 - The American Gandhi and Direct Action 98
  • Chapter 5 - The Dreams of the Masses 123
  • Chapter 6 - Jobs and Freedom 155
  • Chapter 7 - Malignant Kinship 188
  • Chapter 8 - The Secret Heart of America 218
  • Chapter 9 - The War on Poverty and the Democratic Socialist Dream 245
  • Chapter 10 - Egyptland 276
  • Chapter 11 - The World House 308
  • Chapter 12 - Power to Poor People 329
  • Epilogue 359
  • Notes 371
  • Bibliography 425
  • Index 439
  • Acknowledgments 457
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