Historic Photos: Exhibit Honors 3,000 Who Occupied National Mall for Equality in 1968

Over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. started organizing what would become his final major campaign for political equality, which would bring over 3,000 people to live in a tent city built on the National Mall. The settlement was called Resurrection City, and a new Smithsonian exhibit seeks to connect modern Americans to a sometimes overlooked, historic movement. We've collected some of the moving, historic photos for a first look ahead of the exhibit's opening on Martin Luther King Day.

23 photos
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Laura Jones © Laura Jones
Over the course of two weeks in 1968, activists built 540 tents on the National Mall, where men, women and children would eat, sleep and campaign for better social services for Americans of all skin tones and backgrounds. Above, a black and white digital image of people in the Reflecting Pool on Solidarity Day at Resurrection City. June 19, 1968
A woman checks out the aerial view recreation of the Resurrection City, which boasted 540 tent-like shelters for thousands of residents.
AFL-CIO Locale 64 Union
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated days before the Poor People's Campaign protest, which he conceptualized. Hosea Williams, a Southern Christian Leadership Conference field director, led the campaign after King's death. Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader from Chicago, served with Hosea as a city manager for Resurrection City.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
The activists erected and lived in temporary shelters on the National Mall, which turned into a temporary village with 3,000 residents known as "Resurrection City" or "City of Hope." Demonstrators stayed for 43 days before police cleared them out, arresting 337 people in the process, according to Smithsonian documents.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
African Americans, poor whites, indigenous people and Latinos all participated in the Poor People's Campaign.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
Hundreds of participants came in caravans from across the county to protest persistent poverty, including Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Activists worked overnight to set up temporary homes were set up over 16 acres between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. They also installed electric and sewer lines, the Smithsonian says.
In this image, hundreds of temporary Resurrection City homes fill the National mall.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
Many City of Hope's residents personalized their shelters, either through writing, art or even adding second floors and outdoor areas.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
"The American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, white poor Americans from the Appalachian area of our country and black Americans will all live together here in this city of hope," civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy said. Demonstrators also weathered floods, played music and held daily demonstrations on the steps of government agency buildings, according to the Smithsonian.
Robert Houston
Different leaders brought different concerns to light during the six weeks of activism at City of Hope: Chicano and Hispanic leaders fought for land rights in parts of America annexed from Mexico; Dakota Native Americans demanded fishing and hunting rights; black leaders wanted equal service and employment for African-Americans; and poor whites from Appalachia demanded better jobs. Above, Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, a singer, songwriter and civil rights leader, plays the guitar.
Robert Houston
Photographer Robert Houston caught this moment and many others from the campaign. “There was a kind of love there,” Houston told the Smithsonian. “A mutual respect, a sharing, and an understanding that everyone there had gone through the same thing. If they hadn’t already experienced poverty, they were in it, or about to step into it.”
Alex Jamison
The Hunger's Wall allowed activists to spread their message publicly.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
The protesters stayed for 43 days in total, despite rain that flooded the National Mall.
Robert Houston
Many activists were not deterred by rain and mud. But after the group's permits expired, officers dismantled the camp's tents. More than 360 protesters were arrested, including Ralph Abernathy, according to the Smithsonian.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
Resurrection City even had it's own Washington, D.C. zip code. In addition to homes, the city boasted sanitary facilities, free medical and dental facilities and a dining tent.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
The camp also had its own Head Start preschool program.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Laura Jones © Laura Jones
The day after Resurrection City was evacuated, a caravan of mule-drawn wagons from Marks, Mississippi made their way into Washington.
Leah L. Jones
A new Smithsonian exhibit seeks to connect modern Americans to a sometimes forgotten movement.
Benjamin G. Sullivan
The exhibit is sponsored by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, but you can visit the artifacts at the American History Museum.
Laura Jones
There, you’ll find lapels, murals and parts of tents that made up the temporary dwellings on display.
Robert Houston
The exhibit also features newly printed and never-before-seen photographs of the demonstration.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Above, a black-and-white photograph of a large crowd gathered outside the Lorraine Motel. Microphones and speakers are set up on the crowded second story balcony. A few members of CBS News have set up on the roof.
Robert Houston
The exhibit opened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. You’ll have a year to check it out before it’s gone, possibly for a nationwide tour.
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