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Nearly forty years ago

January 21, 2008

Nearly forty years ago, on April 3rd, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at the Mason Temple in support of the black sanitation workers then on strike in that city. The speech, which has since become known as his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address, would turn out to be his last: Dr. King was killed at the Lorraine Motel the very next day. Anyone interested in listening to or reading this speech can find the audio and text here; I highly recommend it. It deals specifically with the problems in Memphis at the time, but it also grapples with the wider problems in America as well; Dr. King was an amazing speaker, and even now, listening to the speech, little chills, some strange emotional electricity, runs over my skin and through my body.

Toward the end of his speech, Dr. King relates how, in New York City in 1958, he was nearly killed by a mentally ill black woman who stabbed him while he was signing copies of his first book. He then touches on the fact that, on the way from Atlanta to Memphis that morning, his plane was delayed due to a bomb threat. And he seems to know what’s coming, or to feel that his time on this earth might not be long—but he is at peace with that. He says:

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!

I hope we get there someday. Which brings me back to the present: Earlier in Dr. King’s last speech, he says something that is just as applicable today, in this very important election year, as it was forty years ago. He says:

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.

We do have an opportunity to make America a better nation; we can help make that change in the primary elections, when those of use who are affiliated with a political party can choose who we want to have represent us in the general election. And we can all—each and every one of us: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Jewish, or any other of the unique colors, cultures, and religions that make America great—affect that change in November, when we can, at the polls, either make a choice for fear and xenophobia or, in concert with Dr. King, reject fear, embrace the world, help put a new, hopeful, and inclusive face on this great nation.

I encourage everyone who is not registered to vote to do so today, in honor of Dr. King and the ultimate sacrifice he made. Each state has its own rules and regulations, but the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Declare Yourself can help facilitate the process. Go here and get registered now. Make Dr. King and his memory proud: Be an “extremist for peace,” take on a mantle of “dangerous unselfishness,” and let’s do what we can to change the course of this country for the better both now, in November, and after. Dr. King would want it that way. As he said, in the last words of his last speech:

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!

*If you want to help get others involved in this election year, send the link to this blog post to your family and friends. Here ’tis:

One Comment leave one →
  1. Declare Yourself permalink
    January 22, 2008 5:59 pm

    Thanks for linking to our site and getting out important information about registering to vote. It is a right that many people worked long and hard for us all to have, so we need to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can do so!

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