Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign

In early spring of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Marks, Mississippi, to rally support for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) “Poor People’s Campaign,” a nationwide march to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of economic disparity and persistent poverty. Dr. King was so moved by the desperate conditions in Marks that he promoted it as the starting point for the campaign’s network of traveling groups.

In the weeks following King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, news reporters descended on Marks to report on the “Mule Train” formation and preparation for the journey to Washington. Soon after, caravans of protestors began to slowly move their way toward the East Coast from several locations in mule-drawn wagons.

The Mule Train

SCLC leaders came to Marks to finish the work Dr. King started. Three marches were conducted in the streets, one of which was led by nearly 300 high school students and 13 teachers who left campus in protest of the arrest of one of the SCLC organizers, Willie Bolden. (Bolden had been visiting the high school recruiting volunteers for the Mule Train journey.) The students and teachers marched though downtown to the jail located behind the county courthouse where the peaceful protest was met with gun butts pointed in their faces by a drove of state troopers wearing riot gear. Several students and teachers were injured and later taken to the nearby hospital.

On May 13, 1968, with weeks of preparation, 115 Quitman County residents, ranging in age from eight months to 70 years old, left Marks traveling in more than a dozen wagons. They crept almost 500 miles over the next month before reaching Atlanta, where people, mules, and wagons were loaded aboard a train bound for Alexandria, Virginia. On June 19, 1968, Quitman County’s famous Mule Train rolled into the nation’s capital and joined the large protest on National Mall. The world watched as residents from Marks, as well as a reported 50,000 U.S. citizens, participated and marched on Washington on June 19, 1968, addressing anti-poverty issues within the nation. There was a global outpouring of support for this movement that would later be deemed as a memorial to Dr. King.