Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Monday, January 17, 2011

Operation Breadbasket

On the 16th of August, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech to the 11th annual conference of the SCLC. The speech had a number of powerful passages, but this excerpt is decidely prosaic:

And so Operation Breadbasket has a very simple program, but a powerful one. It simply says, "If you respect my dollar, you must respect my person." It simply says that we will no longer spend our money where we can not get substantial jobs. [applause]

In Cleveland, Ohio, a group of ministers have formed an Operation Breadbasket through our program there and have moved against a major dairy company. Their requests include jobs, advertising in Negro newspapers, and depositing funds in Negro financial institutions. This effort resulted in something marvelous. I went to Cleveland just last week to sign the agreement with Sealtest. We went to get the facts about their employment; we discovered that they had 442 employees and only forty-three were Negroes, yet the Negro population of Cleveland is thirty-five percent of the total population. They refused to give us all of the information that we requested, and we said in substance, "Mr. Sealtest, we're sorry. We aren't going to burn your store down. We aren't going to throw any bricks in the window. But we are going to put picket signs around and we are going to put leaflets out and we are going to our pulpits and tell them not to sell Sealtest products, and not to purchase Sealtest products."

We did that. We went through the churches. Reverend Dr. Hoover, who pastors the largest church in Cleveland, who's here today, and all of the ministers got together and got behind this program. We went to every store in the ghetto and said, "You must take Sealtest products off of your counters. If not, we're going to boycott your whole store." (That's right) A&P refused. We put picket lines around A&P; they have a hundred and some stores in Cleveland, and we picketed A&P and closed down eighteen of them in one day. Nobody went in A&P. [applause] The next day Mr. A&P was calling on us, and Bob Brown, who is here on our board and who is a public relations man representing a number of firms, came in. They called him in because he worked for A&P, also; and they didn't know he worked for us, too. [laughter] Bob Brown sat down with A&P, and he said, they said, "Now, Mr. Brown, what would you advise us to do." He said, "I would advise you to take Sealtest products off of all of your counters." A&P agreed next day not only to take Sealtest products off of the counters in the ghetto, but off of the counters of every A&P store in Cleveland, and they said to Sealtest, "If you don’t reach an agreement with SCLC and Operation Breadbasket, we will take Sealtest products off of every A&P store in the state of Ohio."

The next day [applause], the next day the Sealtest people were talking nice [laughter], they were very humble. And I am proud to say that I went to Cleveland just last Tuesday, and I sat down with the Sealtest people and some seventy ministers from Cleveland, and we signed the agreement. This effort resulted in a number of jobs, which will bring almost five hundred thousand dollars of new income to the Negro community a year. [applause] We also said to Sealtest, "The problem that we face is that the ghetto is a domestic colony that's constantly drained without being replenished. And you are always telling us to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, and yet we are being robbed every day. Put something back in the ghetto." So along with our demand for jobs, we said, "We also demand that you put money in the Negro savings and loan association and that you take ads, advertise, in the Cleveland Call & Post, the Negro newspaper." So along with the new jobs, Sealtest has now deposited thousands of dollars in the Negro bank of Cleveland and has already started taking ads in the Negro newspaper in that city. This is the power of Operation Breadbasket.

This great leader knew that to make progress requires struggle on many fronts. It wasn't enough to face down the police with their dogs and hoses. It wasn't enough to support better politicians and better legislation. It wasn't enough to win public sympathy. Every ounce of leverage must be used. The same holds true today. The plutocrats may think they have bought Congress and the Supreme Court. While they do hold many levers of power, we still have untapped power as consumers. This power is still occasionally felt, but more often we hesitate to use it. We don't have to shut down a multi-national overnight. We do have to start challenging its power today. Today in Providence, Rhode Island, companies that do business with the city must conform to certain minimal standards of good corporate citizenship. It hasn't changed the world, but it has raised incomes and improved working conditions for hundreds of citizens. There's no reason why school boards, bowling leagues, whatever, can't use their economic clout to promote the good and publicize the bad in their dealings with businesses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for your insight. Please have a look at http://operationbreadbasket.blogspot.com/
if you are interested in Operation Breadbasket.