Dr. King and the Ongoing Fight for Economic Justice

Students watch videos with Martin Luther King III and Rev. William Barber, co-founder of today’s Poor People’s Campaign, and discuss the continuing fight for economic and racial justice.

During the last year of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr., was helping to lead an effort to combat joblessness, economic injustice, and inequality called the Poor People’s Campaign. 

In this lesson, students watch and discuss a video by Martin Luther King III about that campaign and the need to carry it on. Then they watch and discuss an interview with Rev. William Barber, co-founder of today’s Poor People’s Campaign, about Covid, the election, and the continuing fight for economic and racial justice.  

For a more in-depth exploration of the Poor People’s Campaign (today and historically), see this lesson.



Video:  Martin Luther King III

Ask students if they know why Dr. Martin Luther King was in Memphis, Tennessee at the time he was killed on April 4, 1968.

Elicit or explain that King was in Memphis to support a strike by Black sanitation workers, who were fighting for decent wages and working conditions. King was there as part of a campaign he had launched the year before, in collaboration with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, called the Poor People’s Campaign.

Invite students to watch this 3-minute video from Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III:


Ask students:

  • What most struck you in this video? Why?
  • What questions do you have about it?
  • Why does Martin Luther King III say that the aims of the Poor People’s Campaign are more more relevant today than ever?
  • What does he think we should do to celebrate Martin Luther King Day – and honor King’s memory?
  • What is the connection between the fight for economic justice and the Civil Rights or Black Lives Matter movements?


Video: Reverend William Barber

Ask students if they know about a new Poor People’s Campaign, launched in 2018.

Elicit or explain that in 2018, a coalition of multiracial groups launched a new Poor People’s Campaign, aimed at addressing divisions in the United States, from racism to economic and gender inequality.

Led by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis, the campaign is also organizing people to address issues of economic injustice – though it uses somewhat different tactics. Today’s Poor Peoples Campaign is calling for federal and state living-wage laws, equity in education, an end to mass incarceration, Medicare for All, and the protection of the right to vote.

Invite students to watch this 9-minute interview with Rev. Barber by the editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, recorded in April 2020.  In it, Rev. Barber discusses the growing economic divide during Covid, the 2020 presidential election campaign, and the moral necessity of taking action to address poverty, racism, and injustice. 


After watching the video, ask students:

  • What struck you most about this video? Why?
  • What questions do you have about it?
  • What does Rev. Barber say about the Covid pandemic and how it is affecting the level of inequality in our society? Does this align with your own perceptions?
  • How does Rev. Barber think we should assess political leaders? Do you agree with him?
  • How would you answer Rev. Barber’s closing question: “If you knew you had only forty-eight hours of breath left, what kind of world would you use that breath to fight for? What kind of world, what kind of nation?”