Interview with Marian Wright Edelman

Again, walk us through the process from when you first heard and your reaction to when you told Dr. King his reaction, what was going on.


Well, I was in Washington for, doing whatever business I was doing for Mississippi at that time and went by Hickory Hill to say bye to him with my now husband, who was his legislative assistant and it was a gorgeous day and he was lounging out around the pool at Hickory Hill and, ah, we went, went through our usual small chat, ah, about what was going on. And when I was leaving, ah, but I also told him I was going to stop back through Atlanta and see Dr. King and he said tell him to bring the poor people to Washington. That it's time, for, ah, you know, some visible, ah, expression of, ah, concern, ah, for the poor, ah, I had been expressing to him my frustration that hunger was still going on and obviously he was still frustrated that the Agriculture Department was so slow in doing something about it or the Johnson Administration was hesitant to move, ah, so he thought that there really needed to be some, some push, some national visible push. But it was a very simple suggestion, you know, tell Dr. King to bring the poor people to Washington, ah, so I got on my plane and I told Dr. King, ah, to do just that. And again as simple as the suggestion was from Bobby Kennedy when I walked into Dr. King's office at SCLC, he was really down. I mean this was a period, ah, of White reaction and backlash. It was a period when the war was becoming a much more divisive force where, ah, the problems of Black and poor people were being left behind and people thought they were annoyances, ah, and, and we'd had a lot of violence in, in northern cities. And, and, and Martin King was really depressed. And one of the things I always remembered about him from my early student days was how he was able to share his uncertainties, share his, not knowing what to do next, ah, I remember his Founders Day speech when I was a senior at Spelman College when he talked about, ah, taking that one step even if you can't see the whole way and how you just have to keep moving even if you're slower than you want. If you can't walk, crawl but keep moving. He was real down that day when I walked in from Atlanta, ah, sitting in his office and he was like everybody at that time. Ah, Kennedy and me and all of us concerned about the poor and what was happening to civil rights and the country turning itself away from it, about what we were going to do next. And I told him that Bobby Kennedy said he ought to bring the poor people to Washington. And, as simply as Bobby Kennedy had said it, King instinctively felt that that was right and treated me as if I was an emissary of grace here or something that brought him some light, ah, and out of that the Poor Peoples Campaign was born.