The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture lecture series held in the Oprah Winfrey Theater Saturday, July 21, included panel discussions with community organizers, scholars, journalists and politicians about the economic conditions and civil unrest that inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for a multicultural campaign for economic justice. Among the many panelists included Ras Baraka, mayor of Newark, New Jersey; Peter Edelman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center; Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Magazine investigative reporter; Bernard Lafayette, cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participant in the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign; Junius Williams, attorney and author; Julianne Malveaux, economist, author and former president of Bennett College for Women; and others.
Supported by Prudential Financial, this event was the final symposium of The Clement A. Price Lecture Series, named in honor of the late Clement A. Price, Ph.D., founding director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers-Newark University and member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Scholarly Advisory Committee.
“The National Museum of African American History and Culture has recognized Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy with a special exhibition that commemorates the civil rights leader’s final and most ambitious dream, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign,” said curator Aaron Bryant. “Through support from Prudential Financial and the Prudential Foundation, the museum has engaged communities in public discussions on historical issues that still have contemporary relevance. In 1967, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference estimated that 35 million people in the U.S. lived in poverty, with another 30 million living barely above the poverty line. Today, U.S. Census data shows that number has increased to 41 million people living below the poverty line. The Price lectures help us to engage communities around histories that have a direct impact on their everyday, present day lives.”
Each of the three panels presented lessons learned from people on the front lines of The Poor People’s Campaign, including many of King’s protégés and freedom riders, concluding with a final panel that underscored the relevance of the campaign on America’s cities today, taking a particularly close look at Newark, hometown of the event’s namesake, Dr. Clement A. Price. The final panel, which included Baraka, Hannah-Jones, Ryan Haygood and Brian Gilmore, also set the stage for how blacks in power today are radically confronting and changing racial inequality from within existing systems.
“This series, ‘The Poor People’s Campaign: The Other America’—explores a critical time in our nation’s history, and it highlights issues—around race, social justice and equality—that we all continue to grapple with today,” said Lata Reddy, senior vice president of diversity, inclusion and impact at Prudential Financial Inc. at the beginning of the event. “Prudential understood the forces that drove The Poor People’s Campaign. After the civil unrest that plagued many American cities—including Newark—we doubled down on our investment there, helping the city rebuild and laying the groundwork for a more prosperous future.”
“We have to organize where we are, with the tools we have,” said Ras Baraka. “My job is to make a connection to the advances within my city to the residents who live there.”
Hannah-Jones also pointed to the critical role of legislation: “You cannot have equality without strong enforcement of civil rights law but, also of course, reparations. Dr. King says this as well, what’s the point of having the right to eat in a café if you can’t afford to buy the cup of coffee?”
The entire program can be viewed via the museum’s channel on www.ustream.tv.
Images from the program are also available for download.
About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened Sept. 24 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument, the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.
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