Interview with Roger Wilkins

When the Poor People's Campaign reached Washington, what was the state of the movement?


The Poor People's Campaign was the culmination of what King had learned in the North. He, by then, understood that you needed a systemic attack. That, that the Congress had to do it. It had to be multi-generational. And, but King was dead. And this thing was petering out, there was violence, and the Congress was angry. Something needed to be done, and you did not want them to leave without some kind of victory because their cause was right: there were hungry people and there were impoverished people in the country. And we as a decent administration wanted them to have a victory. And it got honed down to giving people who had less than a dollar a day in income free food stamps. And we had a vicious fight inside the administration with those of us who favored that fighting against people who said, "Well, it'll just, they'll just use it to drink up a lot of liquor." We fought, and we fought, we got, finally we won. And the President was going for it, and he called Wilbur Mills, who was head of, who was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House, and he said this was a bill he wanted to send up and what did Mills think? And Mills said, "Mr. President, you know that you're going to ask us for a tax increase to finance your war in Vietnam. If you want that tax increase, you better forget this foolish food stamp program." And that's what happened to the food stamp program. No victory for the poor people.