In early 1968, the activist planned a massive protest in the nation’s capital.
In the early months of 1968, King toured the South and beyond to drum up interest in, and raise funds for, the Poor People’s Campaign, which he had initiated and was supposed to lead later that spring. On March 20, he addressed a rally in the small, majority-black town of Eutaw, in western Alabama. He called for 1 million people to converge on the nation’s capital to lobby the government’s leaders to help the poor.
Thank you very much my brothers and sisters of Eutaw, Alabama … Let me announce now that you have already revealed your support for this campaign to gain jobs and income for the poor people of our nation, because you have contributed eighty six dollars and sixty one cents. I think you ought to give yourselves a hand for that.
We are ready to go to Washington. Now we’ve been fooling around in many areas. And we’ve been doing some significant things all across the South. We’ve gotten public accommodations about straightened out. We fought here and all over from Selma right through the black belt of Alabama to get the right to vote. Now we are going to get the right to have three square meals a day. Now we are going to get the right to have a decent house to live in. Now we are going to get the right to have some money in our pockets so that we can buy steak when we want to buy it … Now we are going to get the right to be able to educate our children. Now we are going to get the right for our wives and our mothers not to have to get up early in the morning, and run over to the white lady’s kitchen and clean and wash her clothes but to be able to stay at home and raise her own children. Now we are fighting for the right.
Now we are fighting for the right to get proper medical care. Now we are fighting for the right to have enough money to have our physical-medical examination every year. Now we are fighting for the right to be able to see our dentist every year. Now we are fighting for the right to get the basic necessities of life. And in fighting for this right we aren’t going to stop in Montgomery this time. We aren’t going to stop in Atlanta this time. We aren’t going to stop in Columbia, South Carolina, this time.
We’re going through all of them, but we aren’t going to stop. We aren’t going to stop in North Carolina, the city of Charlotte, this time. And we aren’t going to stop in Richmond, Virginia, this time. We aren’t going to stop until we get to the gates of the White House before Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the Congress of the United States of America. Now if we are going to carry on this campaign, this Poor People’s Campaign, this campaign to guarantee jobs and income, we’re going to need people, large numbers of people …
“Fire hoses can’t deal with a million people … Dogs can’t bite a million people.”
We’re going to build us a town within a town. We’re going to build a shanty-town in Washington. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to build our own town, and let the world see how we so often have to live back home. We’re going to build our shanty-town. We’ve already picked places to build our town. And we’re going to operate this movement out of there. We get up every morning and eat breakfast together. Then we’ll make a few calls on Congress. Stop by the Department of Labor, present our demands. If Mr. Wirtz, the head of the Department of Labor, won’t do anything about it Monday, we may just say to him we’ll be back Tuesday. Go back Tuesday and talk to him again with our demands. And while some few will go in to do the talking, three or four thousand of us on the outside will just stay on our knees ’til they get back.
If nothing is done Tuesday, we’ll let them know we’ll be back Wednesday and do the same thing. We’ll be back Thursday. We’ll be back Friday. And then if nothing is done about Friday, maybe the next Monday all of the three or four thousand of us will just go on in the building and refuse to leave that building. This is what I’m talking about. And then, in the afternoon, we’re going to have festivals of music and art teaching about our own culture. We don’t know ourselves, and consequently so often we end up not loving ourselves. But we are going to teach our children. And you who will come to us and be with us in Washington day after day, that Plato and Aristotle are not the only people who wrote about philosophy. But W. E. B. Du Bois wrote political philosophy. We’re going to let them know that Shakespeare was not the only poet that entered history. But Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes came by. We’re going to let them know that Einstein was not the only scientist, but we’re just going to make it clear to them that George Washington Carver came by here. We’re going to get it over.
And then we’re going to have freedom schools for adults and children. Every day we’re going to learn a little more. Learn a little more about our heritage, about our government, about the world. And we’re going to have a mighty time in Washington. And we’re in Alabama to urge you to get ready. All ye who are burdened down, come unto us. All ye who are heavy laden, come unto us. All ye who are unemployed, come unto us. All ye who are tired of segregation and discrimination, come unto us. All ye who are overworked and underpaid, come unto us … And we will give you the rest of freedom and economic security. Now we want you to come to Washington … And there will be a mighty wrath. What am I saying?
I’m simply saying that something will start out of Mississippi, and connect with Alabama. And then the people from Alabama and Mississippi will connect with the people of Georgia. The people of Georgia will connect with the people of South Carolina. And then all of them will connect with the people of North Carolina. And then all of them will connect with the people of Virginia. And then another group will be moving on out of Boston connecting with New York. And that group connecting with Philadelphia. Hear me this afternoon. And that group connecting with Baltimore. And then another group pulling on over out of Milwaukee connecting with Chicago. And then they connect with Cleveland. And then they connect with Pittsburgh. And then, one day all of them going to connect together in Washington, D.C. Now that’s what we’re going to do …
We’re not going only to get Los Angeles and New York straight. God knows, they need to be straightened up. But we’re going to get Eutaw straight … Because I met too many people in Chicago from Eutaw. And they are in Chicago not because Eutaw isn’t potentially beautiful, but because Eutaw has been so exploited. White people have kept us at the bottom so long, and they were trying to run away. And they thought they were going to a promised land, and they discovered that even the pharaohs were up there. But, if we could make the South a decent and livable place, people would migrate back to the South. I look at all this beautiful land around here in Alabama, all this beautiful land in Mississippi. The only thing wrong with it is that the white folk want it all for themselves. They don’t want to share nothing. Now we’re going to make this nation better … I’m telling all Negroes in America to take their vacation in Washington, D.C., this year. Everybody. You can get up there and come on over to the city of hope, because we’re going to build the city. Come by to see us. And we’ll all break bread together.
You know, one thing about it, if we get enough people in Washington, Congress will have to move if for no other reason than to get us out of town. Because we will so tie that town up, that it won’t be able to function. Think about it. Think about the fact that if we could get every week, people just going in. And then one day we come up with a million people in Washington. We would be within the law and at the same time practicing civil disobedience. We wouldn’t even have to organize civil disobedience. You get a million people, everything is automatically tied up. Traffic can’t move or nothing. Now I’m telling you what we can do for this nation. And it’s too many for them to put you in jail. Yes sir. Fire hoses can’t deal with a million people. Yes, the water will give out. Dogs can’t bite a million people. The United States Army wouldn’t know how to deal with a million people. Mace, with its chemical power, can’t get to a million people. I know what I’m talking about. Now this is what we’re going to do in Washington …
And when we get back, we are going to have in our hands a commitment to begin a process to end the long night of poverty and despair that we have known in this nation. So once again we are asking you to put on your walking shoes, and walk together, pray together, struggle together, believe together, have faith together, and come on to Washington. And there will be a great camp meeting in the promised land.