Interview with Michael Harrington
QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Let's move to 1968. You were part of Dr. King's research committee and they were meetings or a meeting that convened in the city, to talk about the Poor People's Campaign. Can you describe what was happening, who was there?

MICHAEL HARRINGTON:

I don't remember all the people who were there. I do remember, ah, Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Andy Young.

INTERVIEWER:

Why don't you start again, because that wasn't a good question and it's not important so much who was part of that meeting?

MICHAEL HARRINGTON:

The last meeting, ah, of the research committee that I attended before Dr. King was murdered in the winter or early spring of 1968, ah, we did two things. One was we discussed the general political situation which we always did at those meetings. And it struck me that Dr. King was very pessimistic, deeply disturbed at the way things were going. On the one hand, he was being increasingly attacked from within the Black movement. There was a, ah, surge of nationalism, ah, there was, there were the Black Panthers had begun to come on the scene. There was SNCC, ah, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. There had been a turn away from nonviolence so he was being attacked for being too much of a pacifist, too namby-pamby, not willing to really fight back, not willing to use force against racism. On the other hand, he was being attacked by Lyndon Johnson, and even by the Hubert Humphrey liberals for going too far to the left--for being in the anti-war movement, for taking part in the April 1967 demonstration against the war in New York. And I had the feeling that his sense was that the people who really supported him now, had really shrunk very much, and that he was sore besat on both right and left. And didn't know where to go. I have always thought that the famous speech he gave the night before he was killed when he was talking about being Moses being allowed to lead the people to the Promised Land, but not to enter the Promised Land. Perhaps it was a premonition of his death. But I think it was also a, an expression of the frustration that he felt. And having been deserted on both right and left by people who had been his allies. And he really didn't know where his leadership was going at that point. Within that context, we then talked about the Poor People's Campaign. And in a sense, the Poor People's Campaign was certainly no repudiation by Dr. King of his opposition to the war, but was an attempt to then go back and refocus on basics, and perhaps more importantly, to mobilize a mass movement. Dr. King understood himself as a leader of masses of people, always did, and knew that that was his strength. That whatever these political people to his right and left thought, that among the masses of Black people and among many White people in the Black church, there was still a tremendous reservoir of support. And so we were going to, under these very difficult circumstances, raise the issue of poverty and racism. Ah, and at that meeting, and this is typical of Dr. King, he was an integrationist and that got him into trouble at this point, because in the Black community there were people who were beginning to dispair of the notion of integration. Ah, and Dr. King said to me, "Will you write the first draft of the manifesto for the Poor People's Campaign?" I said to him, "Dr. King, given the fact that we've just been talking about the talk of you from the left, within the Black community, do you think it wise to have a White write the first draft of the manifesto for the Poor People's Campaign?" And he smiled and laughed, and said, "Why, Mike, we never knew we were poor until we read your book," which would be very typical of Martin Luther King. And I was impressed, not simply at, at the remark which I've quoted ever since, since it's the greatest complement I ever received in my life. But at his principle commitment to integration, that he, even under these difficult circumstances, was going to build a movement that was genuinely multi-racial.