Interview with Coretta Scott King
QUESTION 14
JACKIE SHEARER:

In the summer of '67 how was Dr. King feeling as he had taken a stand against the war. Cities were flaring up. People were looking to him for answers.

CORETTA SCOTT KING:

Well, Martin had a tendency to take things upon himself, take the blame for things that he didn't deserve the blame for. Whenever there was violence, whenever violence erupted any place, ah, in the country, particularly racial violence, ah, he would always feel that he was going to be blamed and he would say, "Well, you know, they're going to hold me responsible." And he was meaning the press would write about it and say that Martin Luther King, Jr., with his non-violence, is causing violence, you know. Ah, and I kept saying, "But you are not responsible. You know you're not responsible, Martin. You are the one that's trying to make sense out of all this chaos. And, ah, so you're not responsible. And you can't blame yourself for this." He knew he really wasn't, because I think there are times when, ah, when, you know, you work very hard and you, and somehow, he was trying to find a way to arouse the conscience of the nation around the, the, the issue of the unjust economic conditions. And, ah, he felt that, that, ah, that all the violence was the result, as a result of those expectations that were unfulfilled. And, ah, he felt that, you know, he knew that the nation had the resources, ah, didn't have the will or the commitment. So he was trying to figure out a way to generate that. And, ah, I think it was somewhere in the late summer that, ah, he was in discussion with Marian Wright Edelman, and she had worked in Mississippi and was talking about the conditions in Mississippi and had some, some ideas about, you know, how, ah, this whole, ah, campaign to help poor people could be addressed. And it's not clear to me who suggested the idea of a mule train, ah, starting in Marks, Mississippi. But I remember he came home and he was talking about this whole idea of a mule train starting in Mississippi, using the mule and the wagon as a symbol of poor farmers. Ah, Marks, Mississippi was I guess about the poorest county in the, in the United States at that time. And, ah, to dramatize the plight of the poor, this mule train would start there and would go through Mississippi and pick up other people and, ah, the idea was to start and go all the way through Alabama and the Carolinas and on up to Washington. Ah, and, ah, you know, have a, a campaign, which would be the Poor People's Campaign. But there was, there was much more to it than that. But the whole idea was to bring poor people together around the issue of, of economic justice and lack of jobs and income. And, ah, so he, he got excited about this idea and started developing it further. So by, ah, March of 19, ah, 68 he had called together, ah, leaders of the poor people in this country which included Whites from Appalachia, Hispanics from, ah, from, ah, ah, what, New York, and from, ah, ah, New Mexico and other places, ah, California and, ah, Native Americans and Blacks of course. And we met at Paschal's Restaurant on, ah, what used to be Hunter Street, is now Martin Luther King Drive. And this was the, ah, the first restaurant in Atlanta Hotel where Black and White people could, ah, come to meet and have ah, have, have dinner and so on. I decided that this was a very important, historic occasion and I wanted to be there. So I did attend this meeting. And, you know, it was so exciting to see, ah, Native Americans, ah, Hispanics, and, ah, ah, White leaders from Appalachia and of course Blacks, sitting down and talking about, ah, what they had in common. And Martin invited them to join the Poor People's Campaign. Because by that time they had developed a concept to the point where, you know, they were ready to invite people in. And I said to him, "Like most great events in history, that are historic in nature, the press will miss this one too. But I want to be there." The fact is that this was March 10 and April 4th Martin was no longer here, you know. Ah, the fact is that, ah, he worked, after he got the idea of what could, what could happen to arouse the conscience of the nation around this issue and just legislatively lobbying, going to Washington with the poor people, and he said, "We would stay there and we would camp out and we would continue to, to, ah, to lobby the congress and the various departments until something was done because, you know, America can address this problem." And he was, it was going to be a real test I think for non-violence. And the press asked him, "Dr. King, ah, what if, ah, if you fail?" He said, "It won't be Martin Luther King, Jr. that fails. It will be America that fails." And he believed firmly that, ah, through non-violent means he could address this issue. And that the nation would respond. He said, "And we're going for broke. And we'll go there and we will stay." And he was determined to do that. And I think that, that in that process somehow, ah, you know, along the way he was detoured and of course he never was able to lead that campaign. But, ah, the, the fact is he worked so hard in between from the summer--