Black and Brown Unity and the Poor People’s Campaign that never was

By Gary Hardie

It’s safe to say Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was stolen from us much too soon. I have listened to his final speech more times than I can count. His words in Montgomery the night before his murder were too specific and pointed to be a coincidence. I often wonder what he knew or what he thought after he left the pulpit that night. Mostly, I wonder what was next.

One of the misnomers about Dr. King is that he only cared about causes that affected black people, but he lived by his words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King reached out to Latino leaders in 1968, hoping to unite low-income communities across the US as he planned “The Poor People’s March.”

Dr. King took an intersectional approach to fighting for justice and helped mobilize Latinos of all racial backgrounds. With the Poor People’s March and campaign, Dr. King planned to join forces with leaders of minority communities in hopes of bringing justice to poor communities; thus continuing his work across racial lines during a time when he was considered racist for being pro-black.

In 1963, Dr. King pushed for a strong Latino presence at The March on Washington, asking Gilberto Valentin, President of the Puerto Rican Day Parade to bring his supporters and deliver remarks in Spanish at the rally.

In 1968 King, in support of Cesar Chavez during a hunger strike, sent a telegraph that read:

“The plight of your people and ours is so grave that we all desperately need the inspiring example and effective leadership you have given.”

While visiting Puerto Rico, he said, “Over and over again it has been proven that individuals of minority groups can, even in the midst of their oppression, rise up and make creative contributions which reveal that there is no truth in the idea of inferiority.”

Dr. King stood in solidarity with all marginalized people. What would have happened if he were alive today or if he had lived long enough to see us move closer to realizing his dream? What causes would he have supported and where would his prominence and influence have taken him? What we know for sure is he would have been working to promote the cause of justice and peace for all. He knew there was power in strength in uniting minority communities. More so, he knew that our history and futures were inextricably tied together and he would fight against injustice no matter where it took him.