An American Pilgrimage: The 1968 Poor People's Campaign Mule Train As Prophetic Social Performance
Date of Award
Ph.D. in History
In late spring of 1968, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched a nationwide demonstration known as the Poor People’s Campaign in an effort to overcome poverty. Nine caravans representing people from around the country converged in the Capitol to petition Congress for programs that would broaden opportunities for poor Americans. This work examines the Mississippi contingent of the campaign, the Mule Train caravan, that consisted of roughly 150 people who traveled in 15 covered wagons pulled by about 40 mules. The Mule Train left Marks, Mississippi on May 13 and arrived in Washington, D.C. in time for a June 19 “Solidarity Day” celebration. This dissertation documents the Poor People’s Campaign Mule Train as a pilgrimage and focuses on the experiences of pilgrims who embarked on the five-week journey in pursuit of a transformed social condition. As a pilgrimage the Mule Train constituted a prophetic social performance. The Mule Train reflected the confessional alliance of the SCLC with traditions of faith calling entities, systems, and individuals to embody a vision of social harmony that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as the Beloved Community. Interpreting the Mule Train as a pilgrimage helps to frame pilgrims’ exit from daily social space, their journey through a liminal phase of anti-structure, and their arrival to a locus of power before which they petitioned for economic change. Mule Train pilgrims engaged in a form of street theater that challenged conventional social structures on their way to appeal for an alternative social condition. This work ultimately links the journey of the Mule Train to a trend emerging in the late twentieth-century to establish sites significant to the civil rights tourism movement.
Bush, Cheston M., "An American Pilgrimage: The 1968 Poor People's Campaign Mule Train As Prophetic Social Performance" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2090.