Smithsonian Magazine

Resurrecti­on City mural

A makeshift mural in 1968 speaks to a heroic struggle to overcome inequality

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ICAME HERE with the campaign to tell people that we got to be treated like human beings,” said Henrietta Franklin, a poor black woman from Mississipp­i, explaining to the Washington Post what had brought her to Resurrecti­on City in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1968. That past winter, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had revealed plans to erect a mini-metropolis on the National Mall as part of King’s Poor People’s Campaign. The encampment would send a message that the War on Poverty was far from over. Even after King was

assassinat­ed that April, his supporters forged ahead.

The first demonstrat­ors arrived in May. In a matter of days, they built the roughly 16-acre encampment of tents—reminiscen­t of the Hoovervill­es of the Great Depression—and for six weeks, at least 2,500 poor Americans and anti-poverty activists took over real estate near the Reflecting Pool. Resurrecti­on City even had a ZIP code: 20013.

Perhaps the shantytown’s most memorable structure was the Hunger Wall, which served as a backdrop for the encampment’s city hall. The wall gave protesters space to write words that evoked both the movement’s unity and its notable diversity. Black Americans made up the majority of the Resurrecti­on City population, but there were contingent­s of Native Americans, Latinos and poor white Americans, too. The Hunger Wall’s art is the work of a broad coalition of activists who, while they had varying ideas for achieving change, shared a sweeping ambition: securing economic justice for people long denied it.

One prominent figure at the encampment was Reies Tijerina, known for helping to bring the Chicano civil rights movement to national attention. Tijerina had led a Chicano group from New Mexico, while Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales did the same for Chicanos from Colorado, and Alicia Escalante and Bert Corona organized California groups. Each group advocated for its own slate of policies. George Crow Flies High, chief of the Hidatsa Tribe of North Dakota and one of Resurrecti­on City’s Native leaders, helped arrange

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FROM THE
N AT I O N A L
MUSEUM OF
AFRICAN
AMERICAN
HISTORY &
C U LT U R E
By Photograph by FROM THE N AT I O N A L MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY & C U LT U R E

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