Monday is the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and Tuesday marks the fourth anniversary ofCitizens United, the case that dramatically widened the flood of big money in elections. Their confluence is opportune, for while each seems to invite reflection on a different core social problem—respectively racial inequality and the power of concentrated wealth—each teaches lessons relevant to the other.
King clearly saw how racial and economic justice formed mutual requirements. The strike by African American sanitation workers in Memphis, where King was assassinated, reflected the truth that racial justice for minorities would depend on economic opportunities. In the other direction, the Poor Peoples’ March on Washington that King labored for in the months before his death arose out of the conviction that economic security for persons of every race depended on transcending racial divisions.
These were not lessons that King alone championed. They were also key to President Lyndon Johnson’s drive to build a “great society,” a mission launched 50 years ago this year, for Johnson’s vision encompassed mutually supporting wars on poverty and on racial inequality.