Life at Resurrection City

Activism at Resurrection City

From the Collection, Gift of Robert and Greta Houston © Robert Houston

The Poor People’s Campaign required a considerable commitment. Protesters left their homes and communities, many for the first time, to live in tents along the National Mall for an indefinite period. Each day they demonstrated on the steps of government agencies to demand equal access to employment and job training, livable wages, quality education, health care, nutritious food, and safe affordable housing. As a multiethnic movement that continued the work initiated by the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Poor People’s Campaign marked an important chapter in the history of American activism and democracy.

Jesse Jackson and Hosea Williams both served as city managers. Williams was a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field director who helped recruit participants for the Poor People’s Campaign. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, Williams became the organization’s executive director. Jackson headed the Chicago office of the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket program. Operation Breadbasket used the influence of ministers to negotiate equitable service and employment for African American communities.

Photo shows Hosea Williams and Lou Rawls on a small wooden outdoor stage in Resurrection City with a group of individuals.

Hosea Williams and Lou Rawls on a small wooden outdoor stage in Resurrection City with a group of individuals.

From the Collection, Gift of Robert and Greta Houston © Robert Houston

The people built the Many Races Soul Center and painted their souls on Hunger’s Wall.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A Photographic Journal

The wooden panels shown below are from the walls used to build the encampment’s Many Races Soul Center, a central place for music, meetings, and activism.

Hunger Wall plywood panels from Resurrection City
From the Collection, Gift of Vincent DeForest

Reies Lopez Tijerina’s fight to restore land grants to Mexican descendants was key in the early Chicano Indo-Hispano Movement. Central to Tijerina’s demands was the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which ceded land to the United States and ended the Mexican-American War. Before signing the treaty, however, the United States reduced and deleted parts of the agreement that guaranteed property and civil rights protection for Mexicans in the new U.S. territory.

silver gelatin print depicting a black-and-white image of Reies Tijerina surrounded by supporters

Reies Tijerina surrounded by supporters and reporters.

From the Collection, © Jill Freedman

Peggy Terry was an advocate for poor whites and the Appalachian region who moved from Oklahoma to Chicago and became a key activist on their behalf with Jobs or Income Now (JOIN). Terry’s son, Doug Blakey, along with Jack Boykin, Bobby Joe Mcginnis, William Fesperman, and Hy Thurman, founded the Young Patriots, a white Appalachian civil rights organization. Working with Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, and Jose “Cha-Cha” Jimenez and the Young Lords, the Young Patriots created the original Rainbow Coalition.

On May 29, 1968, Dakota chief George Crow Flies High led hundreds of demonstrators to the Supreme Court to protest the court’s decision in the Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Washington, which gave Washington State rights to restrict Native American fishing practices. Protesters argued that the decision broke the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek, which protected Native American fishing and hunting rights as central to their cultural traditions.

black and white digital image of a crowd marching. Ralph Abernathy and Mel Thom march with a crowd. The Washington Monument is in the background.

Ralph Abernathy and Mel Thom lead a crowd of followers on the Ministers' March.

From the Collection, Gift of Laura Jones © Laura Jones

The Poor People’s Campaign was Martin Luther King Jr.’s final and most ambitious dream. As a multiethnic human rights movement, the campaign addressed issues of economic justice and equal opportunities through a national multicultural coalition.