MLK and Living Wage

This past Sunday we celebrated the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Sunday. It is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It is quite extraordinary that a Protestant minister has a national holiday named after him in honor of his work for peace and justice. That alone is enough to merit our attention to him. But, of course, the primary reason is because his work symbolizes what we want to do and be as a congregation. His radical inclusiveness pursued in peaceful, nonviolent action, combined with a deep call to eliminate poverty, is a standard by which all ministers and churches need to measure themselves.


My tradition each year is to read some of Dr. King’s work to remember not only what he said, but also how he said it. Each year I am struck by how he is committed to traditional American values of equality and liberty combined with a Christian call for compassion and justice. His oratory comes alive with allusions to the best of who we can be as a nation.


This year I focused on some of Dr. King’s writings about poverty. I was not aware that the march on Washington in 1963 included a demand for a minimum wage. Nor did I know that the minimum wage was at its highest (adjusted for inflation) in 1968, the year of Dr. King’s assassination. The purchasing power of the minimum wage then would be worth $9.09 today. Sadly, the current federal minimum wage is only $5.15. This $10,7000 annual salary is $5000 below the poverty line for a family of three.


“There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American [worker] whether he is a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer,” King said more than 35 years ago in his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.” As in so many areas, Dr. King’s work is not done. His legacy remains a challenge, a vision towards which we continue to strive.  The “Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign†is a national religious coalition working to increase the minimum wage. If you would like to learn more about this you may go to their website,


One of the endearing qualities of Dr. King is that he remained hopeful about the possibilities of humans to better the living conditions for all God’s children. Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize he said, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits….I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.â€



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