“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!” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 3, 1968, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Mason Temple, Memphis, Tennessee.
The day after delivering his last sermon, including the most famous lines listed above, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was forever silenced by an assassin’s bullet. In the 50 years since his death, King alternately has been both a martyr–a symbol of struggle and liberation across the globe, and a caricature, one whose memory and speeches have been hijacked by his ideological Pharisees who opposed his brand of progressivism in life, but use his words of a “color-blind society” to develop a color conscious world, one where the dominant color remains global white supremacy in government and industry, since his death.
Had his assassin, allegedly James Earl Ray, missed his mark that evening, thus allowing King to find longevity and live as long as many of his able lieutenants like Reverend Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, I have no doubt that he would have been proud of the fact that the Black middle and upper classes have done exceptionally well professionally and financially over the past 50 years.
But I also suspect that had King lived, he would have been frustrated by the fact that lower middle class and poor blacks are still catching Hell financially, what with the Black unemployment rate still steadily twice that of whites in America. I also know, without a doubt, that had he lived, King would shake his head in disgust at the fact that Klan robes, ropes and Southern trees bearing strange fruit have been replaced by police badges, 9mm firearms and videos of unarmed black men, women and children of all financial backgrounds lying bloody and dead with few to no officers being held accountable by the justice system.
So, as we look back on the 50 years since King was killed, we would be remiss if we do not realize that he gave his life for the sole purpose of fighting for equal rights under a Constitution that has always guaranteed it to all citizens in theory, but has routinely denied it to many of its non-white or non-Christian citizens. Recently, his former aide and eventual Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young said that toward the end of his life, the depression that King felt was so deep that it rendered him at times unwilling to get out of bed to face the Sisyphean challenge of fighting deeply entrenched, systemic racism and white supremacy. Indeed, Dr. King may have been 39 years old when he breathed his last breath, but a medical examiner later remarked that his heart was like one of a man nearly twice his age, undoubtedly due to living essentially with a death mark simply for asking this nation to live up to its lofty ideals toward people of color and the poor(Dr. King, taking a cigarette break, as his aide Andrew Young looks on in silent contemplation)
So, as we pray for his immortal soul, may we pray for the strength to take up his drum major baton in our respective lines of work in hopes of leaving this world just a little more “just” for those to come.
Requiescat in Pace, my Morehouse Brother!