Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 19, 2009


For six weeks - between May and June in the tumultuous spring of 1968 - some 2800 members of Martin Luther King Jr's Poor People's Campaign came to the capital to give physical form to the economic programs King was pushing.

It was an audacious tactical gambit by the leaders of the SCLC, and one which is often thought to have backfired due to a number of overlapping factors. With Dr King's death in April and the urban disturbances that followed, the nation and SCLC were thrown into a state of uncertainty. The leadership of the SCLC fell to King's right-hand man Ralph Abernathy, and with that, the unenviable task of maintaining the momentum of the PPC whilst appeasing the growing factions within his own movement. Ultimately, the task of managing Resurrection City during its six week lifespan would prove to be highly problematic; with the venture being undermined by a combination of poor organization, hesitant leadership and dire weather conditions.

The design of Resurrection City was undertaken by a 'Structures Committee' ; a small group of architects and planners chaired by John Wiebenson, long time cartoonist for the DC Gazette, forerunner of the Progressive Review.

Estimating a potential population of three thousand, Wiebenson and his team went about producing designs for a plywood city; one which could be built economically, easily and quickly. The two main designs for Resurrection City were the Family Shelter Unit and the Dormitory Shelter Unit. Each version comprised prefabricated parts, which could be easily assembled by residents in less than an hour to create a simple, compact and weatherproof shelter.

An exhibit commemorating Resurrection City has been created by British artist Matthew Thompson and is on display at the Martin Luther King Library, 9th & G NW, in Washington through the middle of February.


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