Historian to discuss MLK and the crisis of racial capitalism


While desegregation and the right to vote were significant focuses of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, he also believed African Americans and other minorities would never enter full citizenship until they had economic security.

Headshot of Barbara Ransby
Barbara Ransby

In a lecture hosted by LSA’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Barbara Ransby, historian, writer and longtime political activist, will focus on King’s fight on behalf of poor people and low-income workers, and the challenges of that work today. The lecture will take place at 4 p.m. Jan. 21 in Tisch Hall.

“Racial and economic justice go hand in hand,” Ransby said. “To honor King, we have to work to end racial capitalism.”

At the end of his life, King embraced a condemnation of the American economic system that favored wealth and demeaned those caught in poverty.

A labor dispute took him to Memphis, Tennessee, where he was assassinated. Sanitation workers were striking, and King’s support was part of the Poor People’s Campaign, an anti-poverty initiative that he imagined would lead to another march on Washington.

Fifty years after King’s assassination, income inequality has increased significantly. According to the Economic Policy Institute, white Americans have seven times the wealth of black Americans on average. Although black people make up nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, they hold less than 3 percent of the nation’s total wealth.

Ransby is a professor of African-American studies, gender and women’s studies, and history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a frequent speaker at international events, distinguished professor in UIC’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a popular media contributor on the issues of African-American history, social justice and civil rights.


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