Dr. King’s Advice to Protesters: “The power of economic withdrawal”

“I ask you to follow through here.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King

On the last full day of his life, April 3rd, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his great oration “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. His words are etched in the hearts and minds of Black people all over the planet. But there is a portion of the speech that whites in media NEVER allow to go over the airwaves. And that is because he went into an area of Black development that whites have tried to keep Blacks away from forever–ECONOMICS:

Listen at 22 minutes, 2 seconds

Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it. 

We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

He did not stop at simply identifying a dormant power that Blacks had been neglecting. He went on to explain how to wield that power in the battle against the enemies of the Black freedom movement:

And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell [Memphis] Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

Then Dr. King went even further, challenging Blacks to do what every other white immigrant group has done:

But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”

Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.

He said that when we Blacks feel pain, “we must kind of redistribute the pain.”

Ferguson has taught us that Dr. King was absolutely correct in his agenda for Black progress. He may have asked us to “love our enemies” but clearly he was wise enough to know when and who needed tough love in the form of economic punishment.

Let us take this sage advice from one of our greatest leaders.

 

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