The Civil Rights Movement’s Economic Justice Blueprint
REVIEW BY AL HART
Paul Le Blanc and Michael D. Yates
Monthly Review Press, 2013
303 pages, paperback, $16.95
In the decades since the 1968 death of Martin Luther King, and especially since the 1983 establishment of a national holiday bearing his name, his ideas and goals and those of the movement he helped lead have been sanitized to make them non-threatening to the powers that be. King’s life, work and goals, and those goals of the millions of people who struggled alongside him, have been reduced to four words from one speech: “I have a dream.” But King and other leaders and participants of the civil rights movement of the 1960s had goals that went well beyond overturning the system of Jim Crow segregation in the South and regaining voting rights and full citizenship rights for African Americans. They wanted to transform America to bring economic justice to not only black people but to all working class and poor people.
In pursuit of those broader goals, King and his allies in the civil rights movement proposed an alternative federal budget which was an economic blueprint for a more just society. In an important new book, two activist scholars uncover the largely-forgotten history of the Freedom Budget for All Americans, issued in 1966 by King, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin and endorsed by a broad range of civil rights and progressive organizations. The Freedom Budget went much further than President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, with plans to eliminate poverty in 10 years through full employment, “decent and adequate wages to all who work”, a housing program aimed at wiping out slums, improvements in healthcare, education, transportation and environmental protection. The Freedom Budget was to be financed from “a fraction of” the growth in federal revenues, and to become self-financing because of the increased revenue that would be generated by full employment…