April 4, 1968 – Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: King’s Legacy

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Dr. King – in 1993 – historian Stewart Burns contemplated King’s legacy in Tikkun Magazine. Burns, who was at the time associate editor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers at Stanford, wrote:

“During the last years of his life, King stressed the need for a human rights movement, a ‘human rights revolution,’ placing economic justice at the center. ‘It is morally right,’ he wrote in his last book, ‘to insist that every person have a decent house, an adequate education, and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family.’ As early as 1964 he advocated a ‘Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged’ guaranteeing education, jobs, and social services to impoverished citizens, white as well as Black and brown. He pushed the idea of a multi–billion-dollar ‘domestic Marshall Plan’ to eliminate poverty and rebuild the inner cities, compared to which the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty was a half-hearted skirmish. When he promoted preferential or ‘compensatory treatment’ for the poor and disadvantaged, he primarily meant collective solutions, such as the reconstruction of public education and massive public jobs programs. Such proposals contrasted with subsequent affirmative action programs that, along with their successes, fostered competitive individualism and class stratification among people of color and white women and did not fundamentally alter social relations of wealth and power.”

“Some critics fault King for narrowing the platform of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to the single goal of a guaranteed livable income for all citizens, which he saw as the most rapid and effective means to abolish poverty. Yet this demand was the cutting edge of his emerging vision of universal human rights, mandated by the Declaration of Independence’s equal and inalienable right to pursue happiness. King had faith that universal values, and the rights that spring from them, were not only most likely to win support from the majority but were most likely to meet the specific needs of the poor and disadvantaged.”

“The idea of human rights goals as the common ground and shared commitment of a broad social movement uniting diverse constituencies is more compelling than ever.”

drmartinlutherkingjr

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