The 4th April is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jnr. This posting offers a reflection on his life and death.
In March of 1968 King responded to the rubbish workers in Memphis to help them in their striking against unfair labour practices. That night Martin was feeling depressed. He felt like a failure. Full of a cold he went along to a large church to be the speaker and on his last night he gave one of the greatest speeches of his life.
Nobody knew that this would be the last sermon he ever gave and here are some of his famous last words:
“It really doesn’t matter what happens to me. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, … the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?”
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been up the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The following night, April 4, as he was leaving his motel to go out for dinner, a shot sounded in the air, King fell to the balcony floor, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. He died later that night in hospital.
When you visit the Lorraine Motel now, there is a wreath on the door of King’s room and a plaque with Martin Luther King’s name, his dates (1929 to 1968) and the verse from the first book of the Bible that was the text used by Ralph Abernathy at King’s funeral. It’s from the Joseph story. The words: “Here comes the dreamer. Let us kill him.” The truth from the Bible and the truth preached by King is that you can kill the dreamer but you cannot kill God’s dream!
Washington, James M, ed. I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World/ Martin Luther King, 202-203.
Image: King and colleagues on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.