Martin Luther King, Jr..and economic justice

Forty-five years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In Holy Women, Holy Men, typically, today is his feast day. Most people forget two things about King: that he was a Christian minister and, second, that economic justice was at the heart of his work for civil rights.

Last January, Colleen O’Conner wrote about this for

“Most people can get their minds around (the fact) that King was a civil-rights leader, but it’s harder for them to see how King’s underlying concern was social justice,” said Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. “That came before the race issues.”

King started as a social gospel minister, part of a Christian movement that sought to eliminate problems such as poverty by reforming society around the social teachings of Jesus.

“He wrote a paper in 1948 during his first year in seminary that lays out his mission as a minister,” Carson said. “He said it had to do with slums, unemployment and economic security. He did not mention civil rights.”

King testified before the U.S. Senate in 1966, saying:.

“The rising affluence of America has benefited the better-off more than the poor and discriminated,” he said. “Our income record is acceptable only if we wish to tolerate a society in which the richest fifth of the population is 10 times as rich as the poorest fifth.”

Elsewhere, he questioned why 40 million Americans still lived in poverty.

A tweet from the Pew Forum reminds us that while 38% of Americans felt saddness at his death, 31% thought he brought it on himself.

King was in Memphis to support of sanitation workers in their struggle for better wages. According to HWHM:

There, he proclaimed that he had been “to the mountain-top” and had seen “the Promised Land,” and that he knew that one day he and his people would be “free at last.” On the following day, April 4, he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet.

The full text of his final speech is here.

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