‘City of Hope’ at National Museum of African American History

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Dizzy Gillespie at Resurrection City, 1968. Photo by Robert Houston. Courtesy NMAAHC.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and legacy will be celebrated this Monday, Jan. 15, was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. “City of Hope: Resurrection City & the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign,” an exhibition that opened last month at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, commemorates the 50th anniversary of what tragically became King’s final crusade, which he organized with Ralph Abernathy and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In May and June of 1968, nearly 8,000 people occupied the National Mall for six weeks to call attention to poverty’s impact on members of minority groups, children and the elderly.

The exhibition features photographs of the protest, many never before seen, by Roland Freeman, Jill Freedman, Robert Houston, Laura Jones, Clara Watkins and Ernest Withers, also incorporating archival film footage (some showing a caravan of mule-drawn wagons traveling from Marks, Mississippi, to Memphis for King’s memorial service); sound recordings of musical performances and conversations among campaign participants; and oral histories by organizers including Marian Wright Edelman and Andrew Young.

Wooden tent panels, lapel buttons, placards and murals from the actual encampment, called Resurrection City, are also on display.

“This exhibition reminds us that despite the unprecedented economic growth in America over the past five decades, there are still many Americans living below the poverty line. Although the Poor People’s Campaign did not achieve its goal of eradicating poverty, it spawned a multiethnic and multiracial movement for economic fairness whose belief in helping America live up to its ideals still inspires to this day,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s founding director.

While there will be live music, children’s activities and screenings of a documentary film at the museum on Martin Luther King Monday, its extraordinary popularity continues to make visiting a challenge. The next batch of advance timed-entry passes, for May, will be released on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 9 a.m. Same-day passes are available online beginning at 6:30 a.m. and same-day walk-up passes at 1 p.m., weekdays only.

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