Making Ice Cream and History: The Smithsonian Comes to Our Factory

June 26, 2018

Ben & Jerry's Smithsonian 1968 Poor People's Campaign exhibit, June 2018

Where We All Come Together

We were so proud and happy to team up with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) last Friday to unveil the latest addition to our Ben & Jerry’s factory tour: an exhibit telling the story of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.

With the new Poor People’s Campaign bringing people of all backgrounds together to build a movement to fight systemic poverty and racism, we thought that this was the perfect time to talk more about Dr. Martin Luther King’s original campaign. We also thought that the factory would be the perfect place to have that conversation. After all, nothing brings people together like ice cream!

Ben & Jerry's Smithsonian 1968 Poor People's Campaign exhibit, June 2018

Making History

It was an exciting two days at the factory. We welcomed everyone on Friday with guest speakers — including Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a fixture of the Civil Rights Movement and member of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign — free ice cream, and the grand opening of the new exhibit, City of Hope. And on Saturday we hosted a big community day, where people could see City of Hope, work on arts and crafts with their kids, learn more about the Poor People’s Campaign and, of ice cream!

Ben & Jerry's Smithsonian 1968 Poor People's Campaign exhibit, June 2018

We were humbled by the turnout and the support, but also by the partnership itself. This is an opportunity for Ben & Jerry's to host the work of the Smithsonian — one of the finest cultural institutions in the world. But at the same time, it’s very much in keeping with the philosophy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Since the museum opened in 2016 it’s become one of the most popular in Washington, DC, with visitors arriving in huge numbers. Making this museum a reality has been a 100-year journey, so maybe that’s why its leaders are moving so quickly to reach as many people across the country as they can, including ice cream fans in Vermont.

Dr. Deborah Mack, Associate Director for Community and Constituent Services, told us that she and other representatives from the museum, well before ground was even broken on the National Mall, had traveled to all corners of the country seeking artifacts and connecting with communities of color. Furthering those and other connections is part of the museum’s mission. And we’re proud to help.


Living History

One of the highlights of the weekend was getting to meet Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, a friend and colleague of Dr. King, and the national coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. We could read about the history of the campaign in the exhibit, and then turn around and listen to a man who helped make that history happen.

Ben & Jerry's Smithsonian 1968 Poor People's Campaign exhibit, June 2018

He told us that Dr. King wanted to bring the poor of America to Washington, DC, so that lawmakers could see their faces. Politicians were drafting laws based on numbers and statistics, Dr. Lafayette said, but King wanted to “put a face on poverty.”

Dr. Lafayette was with King the night before he was assassinated. In fact, they stood together at the Lorraine Motel just hours before King was shot. “They tried to kill Martin Luther King because of what he was doing,” Dr. Lafayette told us, “because of his movement, his message, to institutionalize nonviolence.”  He paused, and then he said, “Even though they shot Martin Luther King, they missed. They tried to kill his dream, but they missed.”


Building Community, Building Hope

Dr. Lafayette has dedicated his life to keeping Dr. King’s dream alive. It feels like the world has never needed that kind of commitment more than it does right now. Our CEO, Jostein Solheim, reminded us, during his opening remarks, that “all the human rights we fought for and we thought we won are only temporary. We have to wake up every day and recommit to those values and stand up and fight for those values.”

That’s why we support the Poor People’s Campaign. They’re doing everything they can to finish the work the Dr. King started. And the truth is, we all have a role to play. It could be something as simple as sitting down with a friend or neighbor, looking her in the eye, and having a conversation.

Ben & Jerry's Smithsonian 1968 Poor People's Campaign exhibit, June 2018

The City of Hope exhibition lasts through the end of the year. We recommend coming to the factory with a friend, eating some ice cream, and talking more about Dr. King’s dream of bringing everyone together, all the nation’s poor, and building a better and more just democracy. Together we can make that dream a reality.