In 1968, during the height of the civil rights era, protestors built an anti-poverty “city” along the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will host “Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign,” a traveling exhibition showcasing this important grassroots movement.
Based on an exhibit created by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the “Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” illuminates the multicultural movement that confronted poverty and redefined social injustice and activism. An estimated 25 million Americans lived in poverty in the 1960s — from the elderly and underemployed to children and people with disabilities. In response, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph David Abernathy, organized the campaign as a national human rights crusade.
“The idea for the exhibit was born while we were evaluating all of the things Dr. King did to propel the civil rights movement,” says Saul Sopoci Drake, exhibits project director at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. “Although the organized demonstration didn’t occur until after his death, Dr. King’s words on social injustice motivated thousands to travel to Resurrection City.”
Resurrection City was a protest community built at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For nearly six weeks, thousands of protestors inhabited the “city of hope.” The 15-acre encampment was located between the National Monument and Lincoln Memorial, and it provided housing, food and clothing for protestors. Additionally, Resurrection City housed medical facilities offering free health care and educational institutions.
“The Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City transformed the civil rights movement into something more holistic,” Drake says. “It was one of the first times that people fighting against injustice asked, ‘What do people in need, need?’ It forced the spotlight on poverty in 1960s America.”
The “Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” exhibit will be on display at the Freedom Center from March 31 through June 11, 2023. The exhibit explores the significance and impact of the Poor People’s Campaign through photography, oral histories, field recordings, protest signs, political buttons, digital interactives, and a 3D model of Resurrection City.
“It’s always great to incorporate photographs and artifacts in an exhibit because it provides tangibility,” says Stephanie Lampkin, Ph.D., curator at the Freedom Center. “Seeing people participate in the movement in different ways — whether it’s playing music, giving speeches or even leading the caravans — illustrates what the spectrum of political activism can look like.”
“The digital interactives serve as an oral history,” Drake adds. “We interviewed people who were actively involved with the protests. They do a beautiful job explaining why the campaign was important in 1968 and why it’s still important today. It adds a human quality and brings the exhibit to life.”
The Freedom Center’s mission is to promote social justice for all, building on the principles of the Underground Railroad. Lampkin believes the “Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” exhibit provides the perfect opportunity to highlight the history and importance of grassroots movements — particularly during the civil rights era.
“The exhibit showcases the ideas, emotions, places and strategies of a diverse group of people involved in creating Resurrection City,” Lampkin says. “It stands as a testament to the power of people retaliating against injustice and to the Freedom Center’s mission of social justice, inclusive freedom and taking action.”
Want to visit the “Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” exhibition? Visit freedomcenter.org for more information.