Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Latinos y MLK Jr.

Exhibition of Martin Luther King Jr "A dream of equality" at the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia in Mexico City.

Exhibition of Martin Luther King Jr "A dream of equality" at the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia in Mexico City. Photo: Miguel Tovar/LatinContent via Getty Images

The family of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is asking the public not to celebrate the civil activist on MLK Day as Congress stalls on national voting rights protections for Black, Native American and Latino voters.

Why it matters: The King family and other civil rights advocates today see access to the ballot as equally important to all people of color.

Driving the news: Democratic leaders have found a mechanism to bypass an initial Republican filibuster and debate the party's sweeping elections reform bills, according to a new leadership memo obtained by Axios' Alayna Treene.

  • The strategy is the latest example of how Democrats are seeking new ways to bypass Senate procedures blocking their agenda.
  • But the ultimate outcome will likely be the same: insufficient support to change the 60-vote threshold needed to pass sweeping voting rights reforms. That lack of movement has angered the King family.

Flashback: King began working with Mexican American civil rights leaders in Texas and California a few months before his assassination. He was trying to organize the Poor People's March.

  • At a gathering of Latino and Black leaders in Atlanta to plan the march, King met figures like Reies Lopez Tijerina, but he kept confusing Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, Iowa State history professor Brian D. Behnken said.
  • Maria Varela, a Mexican American photographer and activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said King and other Black leaders at the time didn't know much about the discrimination and racial violence Latinos also faced.

What they're saying: "It is of profound importance that King would not allow the Latino farm workers to be pitted against Black workers or the larger civil rights movement," The Rev. William Barber, of the Poor People's Campaign, told Axios.

  • "In 1966, King sent a telegram to (farm worker union leader Cesar) Chavez saying ‘our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.'"

Don't forget: The Poor People's Campaign, co-chaired by Barber, is modeled after Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 Poor People's March and seeks to organize low-income Black, white, Asian American, Latino and Native American residents.

  • The Poor People’s Campaign is planning a "Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls" on June 18.

Go deeper: House passes voting rights bill setting up Senate showdown

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