The Souls of Poor Folk is an assessment of the conditions today and trends of the past 50 years in the United States. In 1967 and 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., alongside a multiracial coalition of grassroots leaders, religious leaders, and other public figures, began organizing with poor and marginalized communities across racial and geographic divides. Together, they aimed to confront the underlying structures that perpetuated misery in their midst. The move towards a Poor People’s Campaign was a challenge to the national morality: it was a movement to expose the injustice of the economic, political, and social systems in the U.S. during their time.
50 years later, The Souls of Poor Folk challenges us to take a look at how these conditions have changed since 1968. The stark findings draw from a wide variety of sources, including primary and secondary data as well as interviews with and testimonies by people who have been living through and responding to these changes on the ground. Their words offer deep insight for understanding these conditions and why these leaders feel compelled to call for a Poor People’s Campaign today.
The facts, figures, and faces in these pages counter numerous myths about what is wrong with our society, including two of the most prevalent:
- Poverty is the fault of the poor. There is an enduring narrative that if these millions of people just acted better, worked harder, complained less, and prayed more, they would be lifted up and out of their miserable conditions. This report demonstrates that what Dr. King called the “Triplets of Evil”—systemic racism, poverty, and the war economy and militarism—as well as the interrelated problem of ecological devastation, have deepened since 1968 because of structural and systemic reasons, rather than individual failures.
- Despite our nation’s abundance, there is not enough for all of us to survive and thrive. This report makes a clear case that the richest nation in the world has sufficient resources to protect the environment and ensure dignified lives for all its people. The problem is a matter of priorities, as more and more of our wealth flows into the pockets of a small but powerful few and into our bloated Pentagon budget.
The report also makes the case that the most pressing problems of our time cannot be tackled separately. It connects the attacks on voting rights to the attacks on basic needs like water, health care, living wages, and the shift towards the incarceration and criminalization of the poor, with disparate effects across race, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. It shows that our pursuit of wars not only costs countless lives abroad, but is also connected to domestic problems, including the gutting of public services, the decline in government accountability, and the poisoning of our water and air. It documents the decline of rural communities over the past 50 years, where hospitals are closing, jails are opening, and diseases that had been eradicated in the 20th century are cropping back up. Moreover, The Souls of Poor Folk reminds us of the ongoing and emerging resistance and organizing that is compelling
Moreover, The Souls of Poor Folk reminds us of the ongoing and emerging resistance and organizing that is compelling a change in our national priorities