In 1968, Poor Americans Came to D.C. To Protest, Some By Mule

By Walter Ray Watson, NPR

Fifty years ago, photographer and folklorist Roland Freeman hitched his hopes to a humble caravan of mule-driven wagons. The Mule Train left the small town of Marks, in the Mississippi Delta, for Washington, D.C. It was part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last major effort to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

“We’re coming to Washington in a ‘Poor People’s Campaign,’ ” King said on March 31, 1968, only days before he was assassinated. One of the most symbolic groups making the journey to demonstrate at the National Mall was the Mule Train. When King visited Marks, he said he saw “hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear.”

Freeman offered to cover the trip for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group King led until his death. King’s rousing “I Have a Dream” speech had inspired Freeman to join the civil rights movement as a photographer, and he started documenting African-American life the way he saw it.

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