Martin King: I may not get there with you.

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The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennesee where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.
The Lorraine Motel Memphis TN. It is now the site of
the National Civil Rights Museum. The wreath marks
where Martin stood and fell – felled by an assasin’s bullet. [Photo: Wikmedia Foundation]
Fourty years and two hours ago, Martin King, standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, slumped to the ground. He said to musician Ben Branch, “Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” He died an hour later. Mahalia Jackson sang the hymn at his funeral.

His last address was prophetic:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it 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 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.”

Alas, as a people, the promised land is still a dream deferred.

Martin Luther Kng Jr. leaning on the lecturn. {Photo: Library of Congress]

[Photo: Wikimedia Foundation]

Half my adulthood has been despair. Martin’s speech, Beyond Vietnam, pretty much describes the other half:

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

I remember Martin. I dared to hope then – despite Albert convincing me that hope, in itself, is the problem. But it’s not that simple. The problem with us is that too many of us relied on Martin for hope.

Democracy Now! has dedicated most of today’s broadcast to him.

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