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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Mountaintop Speech and Death-April, 1968

One of the most famous speeches Martin Luther King Jr. ever gave was the one he made the day before his death. Listening to it knowing that within twenty-four hours he would be shot, the speech, in my opinion, is very ominous. It was almost as if he had a feeling as he spoke that he would not stay long on this earth. Perhaps he did. The '60's were dangerous times for people who pissed off the government. Trumped up charges leading to jail time, constant surveillance, and assassinations were reality. Or maybe, like many speculate, some people just KNOW when death is close on their heels. Liz, of course, watched the speech on television and of course she thought that it had the quality of a goodbye to it:


'That evening Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave what would become one of his most famous speeches, his Mountain Top speech. This was the speech where he said that it didn’t matter to him because he had been to the mountain top and he didn’t mind. These sounded like strange words at the time. They almost felt like a sort of…goodbye.'
The next after noon as Liz was sitting in class, word spread through the halls of UCLA that King had been shot and he was dead:

'Instead of helping her, the instructor went to the black and white television that was rarely used and she turned it on in time to see the news break. It was true. King had been shot while he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. No one knew who did it and no one knew why, although on that score we could guess. He was a man of great wisdom and he was a man with an amazing vision of what the world could be. He was also the most hated black man south of the Mason/Dixon line. The instructor let us go early but I was too upset to drive. I stayed on the steps of U.C.L.A. and I wept as people passed me. I couldn’t believe my own reaction to the news. I felt so…hurt. How many people would be sacrificed for their dreams until the dream either died or became a reality?'

So what made this one man so important that nearly forty-four years after his death, we are just weeks from celebrating a holiday dedicated to his life and legacy? Obviously I cannot speak for the entire nation but for me, King had more than vision and wisdom, he had heart. He also had a great deal of courage. Every time he showed his face in a protest he knew that the consequences of standing up for his beliefs and his people could range from jail to death but he would not back down. Instead he kept fighting. And even though he had seen enough, been through enough, to be bitter as hell, he wasn't. He was not bitter, he did not give in to hatred. Instead he preached peace and love for ALL mankind, he promoted equality for ALL of the people on earth, and he left a legacy of a life that was too short but was not lived in vain. He gave people hope when there seemed to be none. He gave them his courage and his strength to keep going when it would have been easier in the moment to give up. He was one hell of a man and I have respected him for many years. To me, he was America's Gandhi, America's Nelson Mandela, he was one of America's heroes. And this is why I believe we have a holiday in his honor and we continue to tell our children about him today. 
A Bio on MLK taken from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html:

Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family's long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955. In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.

In 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream", he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
 An amazing website that has a great deal of information about King's life and philosophies:
And pictures of course:


And a very great quote I think everyone should take to heart:


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