Thoughts on Economic Justice from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. evokes not only memory of King but reflection on his continuing significance. In remembering King, we recall the courage and conviction he demonstrated in pursuing justice, including economic justice. It was King’s passion for economic justice, after all, that led him to Memphis. In his visits to that city, he marched and spoke in support of the city’s sanitation workers. These workers were struggling to win decent treatment from the city’s notorious municipal government. King’s solidarity with these workers symbolizes his priorities during the final period of his life. When the end came, King was struggling to organize a movement devoted to seeking economic justice. With the Poor People’s Campaign, he hoped to attract media coverage to the economic injustices of our society. The campaign was designed to culminate in a massive demonstration in Washington that would pressure the federal government into redirecting its budgetary priorities from pursuing the Vietnam War to ending poverty.

The justice, love, and hope the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about included a holistic view for the whole of the earth. He believed that we could only achieve justice if we realized our dependence on every person, even those not from our own country. …  he also spoke about the labor of those who are not from this country by saying, “before you finish eating breakfast in the morning you are dependent on more than half of the world….” He also felt strongly that we should be concerned with those in other countries by sharing of our excess.

I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream – a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character;  a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not only for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity;  the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality –  that is the dream. 

 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961