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Museum explores 1968 Poor People’s Campaign with Smithsonian exhibit

February 28th, 2020

Poor People's Campaign button from 1968

On display at Kauffman Museum through March 15 is a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s final and most ambitious vision.

“City of Hope: Resurrection City and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign” is currently at the museum on the Bethel College campus through March 15.

Kauffman Museum is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun., and closed Mondays and major holidays. There is an admission charge for non-museum members.

King envisioned each U.S. citizen having equal access to economic opportunities and the American dream. “City of Hope” examines the Poor People’s Campaign – a grassroots, multiracial movement built around those goals, that drew thousands of people to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1968.

For 43 days, between May and June 1968, demonstrators demanded social reforms while living side-by-side on the National Mall in a tent settlement known as Resurrection City.

Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “City of Hope” highlights a series of newly discovered photographs and an array of protest signs and political buttons collected during the campaign.

Featuring 18 posters, the exhibition will help visitors engage and contextualize the Poor People’s Campaign’s historical significance and present-day relevance.

Although President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in 1964, tens of millions of Americans were denied livable wages, adequate housing, nutritious food, quality education and health care.

Led by King and Ralph David Abernathy, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized the Poor People’s Campaign in response to poverty as a national human rights issue.

Resurrection City stretched 16 acres along the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It housed 3,000 protesters with structures for essential services like sanitation, communications, medical care and childcare. It included a dining tent, cultural center and a city hall along the encampment’s bustling “Main Street.”

The Poor People’s Campaign marked an important moment in U.S. history and set the stage for future social justice movements.

Within months after Resurrection City’s evacuation, major strides were made toward economic equality influencing school lunch programs, rent subsidies and home ownership assistance for low-income families, education and welfare services through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and more.

The poster exhibition is an opportunity for Kauffman Museum to continue sharing stories of social justice, environmental research and civic engagement, as it has through previous exhibitions – “Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War,” “Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Identity and Stereotypes in Thrift Store Donations,” Climate and Energy Central: Doing Science in Kansas” and “Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas.”

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to “City of Hope” and the permanent exhibits, “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members, Bethel College students, and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/, or Facebook page.

 

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.