“Early morning, April four,
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life,
They could not take your pride.”
–U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to 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 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 tonight, 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!!”
-excerpt for MLK’s speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister and civil activist, but with the speech mentioned above, he also served as a prophet, whether it was intentional or not. This speech was proclaimed on April 3rd, 1968, one day before he was assassinated. From the looks of everything, it almost seemed that he realized his time was coming soon. How soon? He probably did not know his assassination would happen that very next day, but he was certain that the fight to reach racial reconciliation would go beyond the limits of his lifetime. And as Bono (U2) sang, hatred has taken his life but will never destroy the pride he carried in laboring for his dear brothers and sisters, both black and white.
This past week, April 4, 2018, marked the 50th anniversary since the assassination of Dr. King. It is very clear that the fight has prevailed and much has changed since then. It is also clear that the fight is still rigorous and toilsome and there are many steps, small yet significant, to reach the peak of the mountaintop MLK dreamed so much about.
Growing up in a strong Christian home as a young boy, he was introduced to segregation at a young age when his best friend was a white boy. They were allowed to play together but could not attend the same school, leaving King in much confusion, which helped develop his belief that all men are created equal and should be treated as such.
Experiencing more racial discrimination, he realized that someone needed to take a stand and fight against this injustice. Being influenced by both the philosophies of Gandhi and Thoreau, he believed in a ‘peaceful resolution’, resolving the issue without any means for violence.
When moving back to Atlanta as an adult to join the Ebenezer foundation, he became one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was a key organization during the Civil Rights Movement. This organization consisted of black ministers with mutual suffering of inequality. He, along with the rest of the SCLC, led many protests and boycotts against racial injustice for minorities everywhere, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. King shares more in detail about his protests in his book, Strive Toward Freedom (1958).
As with anyone who takes a stand, Dr. King faced much opposition. He was arrested multiple times, received hate and threatening phone calls, had his house set afire, and was stabbed. In the midst of all this, Dr. King kept his integrity and chose the path of peace. He still believed that the best way to fight against the hate that had consumed America for so long was the act of love. In doing so, King did not retaliate. He was even investigated multiple times without warrant from the FBI and personally harassed by J. Edgar Hoover, who called King “the most notorious liar in the country.” Still, King did not waver in his fight for social justice and equality.
The Selma to Montgomery March, which King helped lead, became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. The violence that persisted during this time impelled President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, giving minorities to practice their right in voting. Though it did not change the racial attitudes of many in our nation, it was a milestone in the right direction and gave Dr. King and many others hope that someday we will all live together in complete harmony. As Bono beautifully wrote in his hit song, ‘the shot rang out in the Memphis sky’ as Dr. King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. Though it was a day of mourning, not all hope was lost.
So, did Dr. King die in vain? Absolutely not! His courage has inspired so many. His orations, such as ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, are monumental and have continued to impact so many, even to this day. Because of Dr. King’s courage, children of every race can pursue their education together in the same building. Because of Dr. King’s courage, you can watch a football game where teammates of different race play together as one. It is through the courage of one man, who used love and peace as a tactic to wage war against hatred, that we can all wake up each morning with hope for a resolution, ensuring us that one day we will each have a mutual affection for one another, despite race or ethnicity. Dr. King has inspired so many to keep fighting, not with acts of hate but of love, and many will continue the fight until we reach the mountaintop. His life has gone, but the pride he left is immortal and will continue to live on through many others who are still in the battle.