In this WSB newsfilm clip dated May 9, 1968, Poor People's Campaign participants traveling by bus make a stop in Atlanta before heading north to Washington, D.C. A caravan of tour buses drives along a highway; demonstrators serve themselves food inside of the gymnasium at Morehouse College; Alberta Williams King addresses a large group of people in front of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace at 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta; and Coretta Scott King, Reverend Hosea Williams, and Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy speak at a Poor People's Campaign rally at the Atlanta Civic Center.
The clip, which is approximately ten minutes long, opens with a procession of tour buses driving down a highway. This is followed by a shot of a tour bus parked on a street, and then by a shot of an African American man helping passengers off of a bus. Next, a line of people gather inside of Archer Hall (Morehouse College's gymnasium), and serve themselves food from a long row of tables stocked with casseroles and prepared dishes. Next, Alberta Williams King (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s mother) speaks to a large group of people, predominantly African American, who have gathered outside of King's childhood home on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta; she recalls some of her son's childhood activities in the neighborhood. As she speaks, she rests her hands on Reverend Howard Creecy, Sr.'s shoulder. The clip jumps, and for a moment, she appears to be taken over by grief. After another jump in the clip, the crowd gathered on Auburn Avenue sings "We Shall Overcome."
The next shot is taken inside of an auditorium (presumably the Atlanta Civic Center) at a rally, where Coretta Scott King addresses a predominantly African American audience from a podium. She appeals to Atlanta residents to set an example for the rest of the nation by eradicating hunger, unemployment and inadequate housing, and notes ". . . right here in Atlanta, we are challenged to do something about these problems because we have the opportunity to become a model city to set the example for the other cities of this nation." Here, she is presumably speaking about Atlanta's participation in the Model Cities Program, an urban relief initiative administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that emphasized community engagement, urban rehabilitation,and robust social services. In 1968, Atlanta became one of the first eleven cities selected to participate in the program. She addresses women directly, noting that they have a "special role to play" in fulfilling the dreams of Martin Luther King, and of instilling "true values" in their children. She warns her audience that the struggle will become more difficult, and recites Langston Hughes' poem of struggle and perseverance "Mother to Son," in which an African American mother informs her son "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." Invoking the faith and determination of the poem's protagonist, King concludes that such qualities will bring about a new world "where men can really be free and live in peace." She receives a standing ovation from the audience as she leaves the podium. This is followed by several shots of the audience, interspersed with a brief shot of Reverend Hosea Williams speaking at the podium. As the camera captures shots of the audience, the audio track includes fragmented comments from Williams on the loudspeaker about traveling from Marks, Mississippi (one of the points of origin for many Poor People's Campaign participants), and a demonstrator being punched in the eye by a policeman. Coretta Scott King is shown seated in the audience listening to Williams. Due to constant breaks in the footage, none of Williams' comments are captured completely.
Next, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy addresses the audience at the podium. He notes that he has marched approximately forty-five miles in the past several days, and remarks on his extensive travel and public speaking engagements in the four weeks since King's death. He states that he and other civil rights activists are "sick and tired of going to Washington" to demonstrate, and remarks that this is the last time they will be returning. Abernathy then enacts a scenario where President Lyndon B. Johnson asks his aides to look outside the windows of the White House to determine if demonstrators are approaching outside, and they confirm the arrival of Poor People's Campaign participants in increasing numbers. President Johnson then orders his aides to "look out of the east window and see if anybody is coming." Abernathy says that he can hear them saying "Mr. President, there is a number of them coming out of the east." Continuing, Abernathy says that he can hear President Johnson say "run over to the west window and see if anybody is coming from the west . . ." The aides report "Mr. President, they're coming up out of Milwaukee. Father Groppi has a group [a reference to the Midwestern Catholic priest and civil rights activist Father James Groppi]. They're coming out of Chicago, they're coming out of Cleveland. They're coming out of St. Louis." Abernathy then says that he can hear Johnson say "But I want you to check the far west and see if anybody is coming from the far west." His aides then report back "Mr. President, we see a whole Indian reservation coming from Colorado." After a jump in the clip, Abernathy once again portrays Johnson's staff exclaiming "In fact, Mr. President, they're coming from the east, they're coming from the west. They're coming from the north, they're coming from the south. In fact they're coming in such large numbers that no man can number." The clip jumps and Abernathy continues, noting "every day I look in the mirror, I love Ralph Abernathy more and more," a sentiment shared by his children and his wife. The clip jumps to a quick shot of the audience applauding Abernathy, then loses sound; the clip concludes with a silent shot of Abernathy continuing his speech.
Following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4, 1968, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference vowed to continue work on the Poor People's Campaign in his memory. Cooperating with other civil rights and relief organizations, SCLC members planned a six-week event in Washington, D.C. that lasted from May 2 to June 19 to emphasize the plight of the nation's poor and to persuade the passage of federal legislation that would improve the economic and social conditions of the impoverished. SCLC leaders organized several regional caravans to travel to Washington, D.C. A delegation of approximately five hundred people from Mississippi and Alabama arrived on buses in Atlanta on May 9 to rest before they resumed travel to Washington; food and lodging were provided by private Atlanta residents and members of local churches. While in Atlanta, Poor People's Campaign participants viewed King's birthplace and original burial site at South-View cemetery (his remains were transferred several times after his initial burial; as of 2011, they are at the King Center), and attended a preliminary rally at the Atlanta Civic Center. The crowd at the rally drew an audience of approximately thirteen thousand people, and included speakers Coretta Scott King, Ralph D. Abernathy and Hosea Williams; musical performances were provided by Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. Poor People's Campaign demonstrators traveled onward to Washington, where they lived in Resurrection City, a tent settlement on the Mall, and protested at numerous federal agencies on behalf of economic justice. The Poor People's March on Washington, held on June 19, signified the end of the campaign.
Title originally read "WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Coretta Scott King and Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy speaking at a Human Rights rally, Atlanta, Georgia, 1968 June 17." Further research of events depicted in the clip determines that the event was a Poor People's Campaign rally which took place on May 9, 1968. Reverend Hosea Williams also spoke at the event.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.