Thursday, April 03, 2008

April 3

Forty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., arrived in Memphis, Tennessee to offer his support to the 1300 sanitation workers -- most of whom were African American -- who had struck nearly two months before to protest their low pay, awful working conditions and their union's non-recognition by the city. The civil rights leader had been to Memphis twice during the previous month and joined the men of AFSCME Local 1733 in marches to City Hall, sit-down protests, mass meetings and night-long vigils. During his final trip, King was ill. After joining in an afternoon march in downtown Memphis, King initially decided to rest and not speak that evening at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple Church of God, where workers and their supporters were planning to convene. After a 30-minute address by Ralph Abernathy, however, King rose and spoke extemporaneously for nearly 45 minutes.

Toward the end of his address, King observed that
[m]en, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis . . . .

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.
James Earl Ray shot King in the throat less than 24 hours later as King stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, wondering if he needed to wear a coat that evening.