Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 at only 39 years of age. While best known for his critique of racial segregation and oppression and his brilliant oratory, it is worth remembering that even before he became a public figure, King was quite critical of our economic system. Even the famous 1963 March on Washington wasn’t exclusively about racial inequality. It was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom!
Here, in his own words, are some of his public statements from late in his life calling attention to the ills of capitalism.
“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.”
Speech to his staff, 1966.
“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed.
Report to SCLC Staff, May 1967.
“And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…”
Speech to Southern Christian Leadership Conference Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967.
We couldn’t agree more.