On April 3rd, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. told a packed crowd at the Mason Temple in Memphis, TN that, “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 to 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 that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so 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!
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in cold blood.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary in the truest sense of the word. Five years earlier, in the summer of 1963, he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech from the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. 100 years after the assassinated president from whose shadow he spoke signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and five years before his own assassination, he dreamt of a land where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
By 1968, this was no longer a dream, it was an unstoppable movement. Like Abraham, he never lived in the promised land, but he saw it. Most visionaries never see their dreams become reality, but he’d shared his dream with enough people that nothing could stop it from coming true. He’d led the movement to the mountaintop, and the trip up the mountain, with only the promise of a lush valley that you cannot see on the other side, is always the harder half of the journey. His enemies were too late, for he’d brought a few men to the mountaintop with him, and once you’re on the mountaintop with a vacant desert behind you and a lush valley before you, the hike down the backside is a foregone conclusion. These men would pick up his mantle and not only lead the rest of the movement to the mountaintop, but down the backside of the mountain into the “promised land.” Men like Ralph Abernathy and Benjamin Hooks and many other that I don’t know about, but probably should. Today we should remember the fearless man who led the civil rights movement to the mountaintop as well as his successors who led it the rest of the way.