Traveling exhibition of 1968 Poor People’s Campaign

In late May of 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign erected a small city on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as a site of protest and collective action for economic justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the Campaign, but following his assassination in April, Ralph Abernathy helped lead efforts.  

Remember, when King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, he was there supporting striking sanitation workers. Garbage men. Poor people.

There was considerable diversity within the campaign, not only across ethnic and religious lines, but geographically too. To ensure the campaign addressed New Mexico’s concerns about land, Reies López Tijerina and many other New Mexicans also made the 1,500-mile trip to Washington, D.C. This fall, the story of the Poor People’s Campaign comes to New Mexico History Museum.  

Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign is a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian that illuminates the often-overlooked history of the multicultural movement to confront poverty that redefined social justice and activism in America. The exhibition comes to New Mexico History Museum on October 14 and will be on view through January 14, 2024.  

Solidarity Now! features photographs, oral histories with campaign participants and organizers, and an array of protest signs, political buttons, and audio field recordings collected during the campaign. The exhibition explores the significance of the tactics and impact of this campaign that drew thousands of people to build a protest community on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For nearly six weeks they inhabited “a city of hope” on 15 acres between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial to call the nation’s attention to the crippling effects of poverty for millions of Americans. The protest site was called Resurrection City. 

Through a 3D map of Resurrection City, visitors can examine the planned spaces for housing, a cultural center, city hall, theater stage, and essential services, including facilities for food and dining, sanitation, communications, education, medical and dental care, and childcare.  

Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Combating Poverty in America

In the 1960s, as the United States emerged as a global model of wealth and democracy, an estimated 25 million Americans lived in poverty. From the elderly and underemployed to children and persons with disabilities, poverty affected people of every race, age, and religion. In response, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by King and Abernathy, organized the Poor People’s Campaign as a national human rights crusade. 

King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963 at the March on Washington, which included this line: “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

The formal name for that monumental gathering was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Jobs. Poor people. The event was initially conceived by a labor organizer. As much as it’s aims were greater freedom, liberty and justice for minorities, they were also improved housing, fair labor standards and a national minimum wage for all people–for poor people–as spelled out in the organizer’s “10 Demands.”

As a multiethnic movement that included African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Asians, and poor whites from Appalachia and rural communities, the six-week Poor People’s Campaign protest community in Washington attracted demonstrators nationwide. The campaign leaders presented demands to Congress, including demands for jobs, living wages, and access to land, capital, and health care. It was the first large-scale, nationally organized demonstration after King’s death.  

The exhibition title is a reference to the Solidarity Day Rally held June 19, 1968, as a major highlight and capstone for the movement. The rally at the Lincoln Memorial featured speeches by celebrities, activists, and campaign organizers as a continuation of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  

About SITES and Smithsonian Affiliations 

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and Smithsonian Affiliations are critical national outreach units at the Smithsonian Institution. For more than 70 years, SITES has been connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history.

Smithsonian Affiliations establishes and maintains the Smithsonian’s long-term partnerships with museums, educational organizations, and cultural institutions in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Panama. Together, SITES and Affiliations share the Smithsonian’s vast resources with millions of people outside Washington, D.C.

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture 

Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has welcomed more than 7 million visitors. 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.

About the New Mexico History Museum   

The New Mexico History Museum is a statewide educational resource, nationally significant local landmark, and destination for anyone who wants to understand the diverse experiences of the people of New Mexico, the dynamics that have shaped our state, and the relationships that connect our region with the rest of the world.

Located on the north side of the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the New Mexico History Museum campus includes the Palace of the Governors, the Pete V. Domenici Building, the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, and the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.  

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