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King: Poverty the Next Civil Rights Battle

The nation will recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. again this Monday and remember his important work to advance racial equality. But what about King’s efforts to fight poverty?

In the last years of his life, King eloquently described the problems of racism, wars, and economic exploitation as being intimately intertwined. In a June 1967 speech at Victory Baptist Church in Los Angeles, King said,

It’s much easier to integrate a bus than it is to eradicate slums. It is much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee an annual income. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to create jobs. And the things that we are calling for now will mean that the nation will have to spend billions of dollars in order to solve these problems.

In August 1967, in a speech titled, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” King said, “We are likely to find that the problem of housing, education, instead of proceeding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

Today income inequality is increasing around the world, and the United States is near the top of the list among developed nations. A recent series from Global Post shines a light on what that inequality really looks like — focusing in part on the most unequal metropolitan area in the United States: Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Former NEA Executive Director John Wilson wrote in Education Week recently,

This weekend marks the official celebration of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the inauguration of President Barack Obama. We can acknowledge and celebrate those events best by harkening back to the message of Dr. King: pay attention to the poor in this country, the least among us. Our community service should be focused on children without social capital. Education and political leaders should begin forging new policies and new practices that are customized to ensure that this group of children can succeed in our schools.

What do you think can be done to combat income inequality and keep Dr. King’s legacy alive?

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