The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas looks back at a 1968 campaign to end poverty – and why it still matters

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At the height of the turbulent 1960s, a massive movement to end poverty took root in the United States. Thousands of people descended on Washington, DC and took up residence for months, protesting on The Mall.

“Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza is an exploration of the movement that brought this coalition of Americans together. The exhibition lasts until February 26.

Stephen Fagin, the museum’s curator, believes the campaign’s message is still as important today as it was more than 50 years ago.

“By hosting this exhibition, we are helping people understand that poverty is real, that it still exists and that it is all around us,” Fagin said. “Anytime awareness can be amplified and spread, I think that’s a very positive thing that leads to positive results.”

Here are four things to know about the campaign of the poor:

Robert Houston, 1935-2021

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Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Robert and Greta Houston

A caravan bus from Newark, New Jersey, arrives in Resurrection City, 1968.

Martin Luther King Jr. planned the campaign before his assassination in April 1968.

After Dr. King’s death, Ralph Abernathy became President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and continued his efforts to portray the severity of poverty in our nation’s capital.

Poor people came to DC from all over the country to participate in the campaign, traveling by bus, car or even mule cart.

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Robert Houston, 1935–2021

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Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

A man and woman hammering nails into an A-frame shelter in Resurrection City, 1968.

The camp, called Resurrection City, was actually a slum built on the Washington Mall.

As protesters poured in, wooden tents were quickly erected.

The encampment lasted more than six weeks, from May to the end of June 1968. Resurrection City, parked in the heart of the American capital, operated as an independent city, with its own businesses, health clinics and general infrastructure.

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Robert Houston, 1935-2021

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Collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Gift of Robert and Greta Houston.

A woman, child and clergyman walk through the mud in Resurrection City in 1968

Resurrection City was not a utopia.

Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated during the campaign, casting a gloomy mood over protesters. And in the camp, a policing has prevented protesters from having direct contact with lawmakers and politicians.

Regular rains left the camp incredibly muddy, making life at the campsite even more difficult. In late June, DC police emptied the camp, arresting those still there and ending the campaign.

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Laura Jones, born in 1948

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Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Laura Jones.

The Ministers March was part of the Poor People’s Campaign on the Mall in Washington, DC, 1968.

Nevertheless, the Poor People’s Campaign has had a profound impact, showing interracial solidarity and uniting people around a singular cause: the eradication of poverty in the United States.

The effort is still inspiring — and relevant — today, said Fagin, the museum’s curator.

“You had African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans all coming together, literally living side by side in this makeshift community that was very self-sufficient,” Fagin said.

“Resurrection City had its own zip code, its own daycare. It was a really amazing place for six weeks. And these people, after the campaign, they took those cultural lessons home.”

Rethinking the effort is important for today, Fagin said.

“We’re a very divided country right now. Appreciating and understanding each other and our uniqueness and our own culture, I think, can only bring us closer together.”

“Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” is playing at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza until February 23.

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