King ‘Mountaintop’ Speech Echoes Again in Memphis
Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Mountaintop” speech rang out again Friday night at the church where he delivered his last public address 30 years ago--the night before he was assassinated.
On April 3, 1968, King told followers at the Mason Temple that they would get to the promised land, but he might not be with them.
“Like anybody, I would like to have a long life. Longevity has its place,” King said in the speech, a recording of which was played Friday.
“But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he has allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.”
The memorial service was part of a weekend-long “Pilgrimage to Memphis,” a series of seminars and other events honoring King and other champions of the civil rights movement.
“Martin believed in this country, that black and white can live together,” said Bishop Chandler Owens of the Church of God in Christ. “And I think we have come a long way toward that goal. Every step we make in that direction, we must remember the great dreamer.”
King was killed April 4, 1968, by a rifle shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, which is now a civil rights museum. King was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers. James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, pleaded guilty to the murder and is serving a 99-year sentence.
The opening session for the pilgrimage was held at Clayborn Temple, the church where the marches for the sanitation strike began and ended.
“We saw ourselves as the liberation movement, the freedom movement, a justice movement, a movement that wanted to transform America,” said the Rev. James Lawson, a close King associate, said at the opening session.
He added that, while the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s achieved many of its goals, much work remains to be done, and King set the example of how to do it.
The Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who was with King when he was shot, said one of the event’s primary goals is to teach young people about the civil rights movement and King.
“And I’m also talking about 40-year-old young people,” Kyles said. “People who are 35 were only 5 when Martin died. People who are 40 were only 10.”
A march led by King on March 28, 1968, ended violently when a group of rowdy young protesters began breaking windows on Beale Street and police chased the marchers back to Clayborn Temple with clubs and tear gas.
That disturbance prompted King to return days later, vowing to lead a peaceful march.
Kyles said people must remember King’s basic message that the way to overcome injustice is through nonviolent protest.
“The civil rights movement was a magnificent thing,” he said. “With all the violence in the land now, we don’t have to have that. Nonviolence worked then and it will work now.”