When Martin Luther King Jr. discerned that the coming era would require a human rights movement, he called the poor to lead the way. In the Poor People’s Campaign he drew leaders together across race lines to tackle the enmeshed evils of racism, poverty, and war. Wessel-McCoy roots King’s political strategy in his theological ethics and traces the spirit of the campaign to community and religious leaders who are responding to the crises of inequality today.
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This history and analysis of the Poor People’s Campaign is a must read. Some have wrongly suggested that the original campaign failed, but Dr. Wessel-McCoy tells the story of the strategy that was deployed to try to stop the campaign and how the campaign not only named the moral connection between poverty, racism, and militarism that the nation will have to eventually face but also won significant policy battles. To know this history is to know we must continue the fight against poverty in America.
— William J. Barber II
This inspiring book provides a rare analysis of the history of Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the poor people’s movement with its attention to spirituality and Christian theology together with racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. Wessel-McCoy mines the roots and expanse of King’s vision while also including riveting details about women’s leadership. Truly exciting ideas here about how to continue this movement today.
— Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School
What would it take to build an interracial movement of the world’s poor that gives voice to the poor? Colleen Wessel-McCoy brings her astute scholarship, deep integrity, and many years of social justice activism to this question, culling the lessons of the Poor People’s Campaigns of 1968 and today. Her book is a model of analytical, reflective, morally engaged social-ethical scholarship.
— Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University
Freedom Church of the Poor: Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign is a game-changer in King studies. Wessel-McCoy not only brilliantly demonstrates how King’s revolutionary theological and ethical imagination informed his radical political strategy as an organizer of the poor in 1968, but she also unpacks how his ideas and methods are being used and expanded by contemporary leaders who are intent on ending poverty in the U.S. At a moment when King-inspired clergy, scholars, and activists are joining with politicians to radically advocate for a Third Reconstruction, this important book reminds the nation of how expansive, inclusive, and righteous King’s vision for the U.S. actually was.
— Tejai Beulah, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Wessel-McCoy lifts up Rev. Dr. King’s political understanding of the leadership of the poor and draws out its theological underpinnings. Lifting up the conditions of poverty and systemic racism today and the growing response coming from poor people, moral leaders and activists across the country, this book documents the history of human rights organizing in 1968, why it was so dangerous to the status quo, and what lessons we can apply to movement building today.
— Liz Theoharis, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Capturing the vision for this time, Dr. Colleen Wessel McCoy brings to life her gift of teaching in this book. She keeps sacred the rich history and lineage of a people’s movement.
— Savina Martin, National Union of the Homeless