The Economic Empowerment Series

Part II
Dr. King’s Fight for Economic Justice

Never before in our country has economic empowerment in minority communities been more vital.

But in order to be empowered financially, it is important that we develop a well-thought-out approach to economic freedom. It will not happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and understanding. 

So, in what direction can we look in order to gain the wisdom necessary to achieve our economic goals?

We can look to the past and follow the words and actions of a few of the greatest minority advocates that our world has ever seen, one of which is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who dedicated part of his freedom fight to the economic empowerment of black people across the country.

It is a lesser known fact that towards the end of his life and fight for social justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was turning his energy toward the fight for economic empowerment. 

Just weeks before his death in 1968, King was preparing to launch a Poor People’s Campaign as a tool to gain economic justice for black people in America. To this end, King Jr. gave a speech in Detroit called “The Other America” where he addressed the connection between inequality in jobs and justice.

In this speech Dr. King metaphorically describes two Americas that exist alongside one another. The first is “the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits[…]And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.”

The second America, he explains, is the place where the nation’s citizens live in poverty. He mentions the several races occupying this America, including poor white people and LatinX people, before characterizing the Black American experience: 

“The American Negro finds himself living in a triple ghetto. A ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery.”

So often we forget the inextricable link between economics and social justice. In fact, the two have always been connected to each other. For example: the full name of the 1963 March on Washington is The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The March also had 10 key demands, two of which were directly related to economics:

DEMAND 7 – A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers — Negro and white — on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.

DEMAND 8 – A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2.00 an hour fails to do this.

In 2020, as we continue to fight for social justice and racial equality, let us not forget that this world also spins on the axis of self-preservation.

The fight for economic justice in the United States is a fight that digs deep. It addresses how one came to have and the other is without. It will undoubtedly leave a void for some who have scarcely felt fear.

This fight goes just beyond the social contract and far beyond comfort.