Martin Luther King Jr.'s Push for Economic Inclusion
In his 1967 speech at Stanford University, the late civil rights leader described two Americas — one with economic opportunity, and one without.
“The Other America" is arguably the most powerful speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ever delivered. Yet, somehow it remains one of the most unfamiliar speeches to most Americans.
Delivered at Stanford University on April 14, 1967, King made his case for economic inclusion by describing two Americas.
“One America is beautiful for situation," he said. “And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits."
King then described the contrast between one America and “The Other America."
“This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair," he said. “They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity."
For King, economic inclusion lived in the core principles of his faith and his activism. It wasn't enough that white people and Black people could sit together at the same counter if one of them couldn't afford the same meal.
In a 2019 interview hosted by the Breakfast Club, Entertainment Studios Chairman and CEO Byron Allen recounted a conversation with King's widow, Coretta Scott King, where they discussed the four pillars of achieving true equality in America:
- End slavery
- End Jim Crow laws
- Achieve civil rights
- Create economic inclusion
There is a very specific role that banks and financial institutions play in achieving true equality in America. That role is to champion economic inclusion by building trust across social, cultural, racial, political, generational, regional, religious and economic differences. We can accomplish this by opening opportunity, increasing access and investing our capital — human, social and financial.
In 2021, far too many Americans continue to experience the harsh realities of the “other America." As we work toward recovering from a global health pandemic, a national reckoning around race in America, and dealing with the economic devastation that so many workers and employers are facing right now, it is time to come together. King offers hope in his speech's closing statement:
“I want to close by saying this afternoon that I still have faith in the future," he said. “And I still believe that these problems can be solved. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy."
Sui Lang L. Panoke is senior vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Zions Bank.