Memphis, Tennessee (JFK+50) Forty-seven years ago tonight, April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ Headquarters, here in Memphis. He was in the city to support the striking sanitation workers who were victims of minimal wages and poor working conditions.
Dr. King began the last sermon he would ever deliver with these words...
"Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, 'Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?'"
After referencing some of the more notable events of Biblical and world history, Dr. King said...
"Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty and say, 'If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.'"
Rev. King said that despite the fact that the world that he was living in "was all messed up," he believed that God was working and that men were responding.
Dr. King continued...
"The masses...are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."
Rev. King also addressed Jesus's parable about the Good Samaritan who stopped along the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho to help a man in need. A Levite and a priest passed the helpless man by, Dr. King, surmises because they asked themselves "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me." The Good Samaritan, however, asked himself "If I do NOT stop to help this man, what will happen to HIM?"
MLK compared this parable to the situation with the Memphis sanitation workers. He said that we shouldn't ask if we stop to help them how will it adversely affect us, but instead we should ask what will happen to them if we don't stop to help them.
MLK concluded his emotional and moving speech with these words:
"I don't know what will happen now. We've got difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now because I've been to the mountaintop and I've looked over. And I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But....we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
Dr. King's "Mountaintop" address is rated in the top 100 speeches of all time by American Rhetoric. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed the following afternoon in Memphis.
"I've Been to the Mountaintop," Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. American Rhetoric, Top 100 Speeches, www.americanrhetoric.com/
MLK, Jr. Memorial