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Power to the Poor

Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974

Gordon K. Mantler

Publication Year: 2013

Anti-poverty activism and black-brown coalition The Poor People's Campaign of 1968 has long been overshadowed by the assassination of its architect, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the political turmoil of that year. In a major reinterpretation of civil rights and Chicano movement history, Gordon K. Mantler demonstrates how King's unfinished crusade became the era's most high-profile attempt at multiracial collaboration and sheds light on the interdependent relationship between racial identity and political coalition among African Americans and Mexican Americans. Mantler argues that while the fight against poverty held great potential for black-brown cooperation, such efforts also exposed the complex dynamics between the nation's two largest minority groups. Drawing on oral histories, archives, periodicals, and FBI surveillance files, Mantler paints a rich portrait of the campaign and the larger anti-poverty work from which it emerged, including the labor activism of Cesar Chavez, opposition of Black and Chicano Power to state violence in Chicago and Denver, and advocacy for Mexican American land-grant rights in New Mexico. Ultimately, Mantler challenges readers to rethink the multiracial history of the long Civil Rights movement and the difficulty of sustaining political coalitions. Gordon K. Mantler is a lecturing fellow and associate director in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Justice, Power, and Politics


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9


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pp. ix-11

Abbreviations in the Text

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-14

As Reies López Tijerina stepped to the podium in a small but ornate room at Chicago’s Palmer House hotel, the charismatic Chicano leader exuded both a supreme confidence and a genuine urgency about the state of his people in the fall of 1967. “The black man is marching in the streets,” Tijerina told a mix of supporters...

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1. The “Rediscovery” of Poverty

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pp. 15-39

“Poverty can now be abolished. How long shall we ignore this underdeveloped nation in our midst? How long shall we look the other way while our fellow human beings suffer? How long?”1 These words from The Other America, written by Michael Harrington in 1962, became one of the era’s most...

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2. First Experiments

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pp. 40-64

Soon after his union won a breakthrough contract in 1966, Cesar Chavez received a telegram from Martin Luther King Jr. lauding Chavez’s victory through perseverance. “Our separate struggles are really one—a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity,” wrote King. “You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated...

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3. War, Power, and the New Politics

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pp. 65-89

As the United Farm Workers celebrated its first triumphs over California grape growers, other activists dreamed of a much larger victory in national politics. Championing what it called the “new politics,” a cadre of mostly white, male organizers from the anti–Vietnam War movement began laying...

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4. Poverty, Peace, and King’s Challenge

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pp. 90-120

On December 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. formally announced SCLC’s much-anticipated program of mass civil disobedience for the upcoming election year. The Poor People’s Campaign aimed to dramatize poverty in the United States, by leading “waves of the nation’s poor and disinherited to Washington...

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5. Race and Resurrection City

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pp. 121-153

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Memphis on April 3 triumphantly, delivering the powerful and soulful “Mountaintop” speech in which he seemed to predict his own death. Less than twenty-four hours later, stunning the nation and the world, an assassin’s bullets martyred the civil rights...

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6. Multiracial Efforts, Intra-racial Gains

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pp. 154-185

On May 29, symbolism of a different sort played out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. After a boisterous demonstration against a recent ruling on American Indian fishing rights, hundreds of protesters had begun to trek back to the Hawthorne School, when local police officers attacked. Prompted...

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7. The Limits of Coalition

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pp. 186-207

Gilberto Ballejos returned to Albuquerque in July 1968 inspired and ready to build local bases of power. “A lot of nice things, humorous things, enlightening things occurred” in Washington, Ballejos recalled. Alianza members, young and old, “came back and were very different, and better for it. People I still talk...

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8. Making the 1970s

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pp. 208-241

Bobby Lee was about to leave an Uptown Chicago hall full of white Appalachian migrants in late 1968, when the Black Panther leader suddenly jumped on a chair. “Black power to black people,” he declared to the stunned audience. And after a pause, he continued, “and white power to white people...

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Epilogue: Poverty, Coalition, and Identity Politics

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pp. 242-248

The Gary and El Paso conventions became potent symbols of what later would be called the era’s “identity politics.” First coined by black feminists in the Combahee River Collective in 1977, the term most often referred to the racial and cultural politics of African Americans. “Focusing on our own oppression...


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pp. 249-311


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pp. 313-339

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pp. 341-343

As a onetime journalist, I know a project often starts with a seemingly innocuous question about the world around us. The genesis of this one came as I wondered why the attempts at interracial and multiracial coalition building that I first witnessed and then joined in my current hometown of Durham...


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pp. 345-362

E-ISBN-13: 9781469608075
E-ISBN-10: 1469608073
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807838518
Print-ISBN-10: 0807838519

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Justice, Power, and Politics
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OCLC Number: 830169776
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Power to the Poor

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
  • Hispanic Americans -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
  • Coalitions -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poverty -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social justice -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political activists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Ethnicity -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Economic conditions -- 1961-1971.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century
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