Martin Luther King Jr. Day is here, and with it comes a time of remembering his teachings and legacy. The leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, best known for channeling his Christian beliefs to lead peaceful protests and campaigns for the advancement of civil rights in the United States, was also a master speechwriter and orator. One of his most memorable speeches was his last public address, where he also touched upon his own mortality.
On April 3, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last public address in a crowded church in Memphis, Tennessee, hours before his assassination. The speech mostly covered the injustice felt by the city’s sanitation workers, who were on strike at the time protesting low pay and poor working conditions. He urged the protesters and supporters of the strike not to engage in violence, otherwise authorities would ignore the issue of injustice and focus on the violence instead.
When he touched upon the Civil Rights Movement, King demanded that America live up to its constitutional ideas, saying: “Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights. And so just as I said, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around. We aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.”
He also touched upon economic boycotts, which he considered a form of protest. He urged people not to buy products from racist organizations, and instead empower black businesses. Then, at the end of his speech, King touched upon the subject of his impending death in a prophetic way.
He referred to the threats against his life, reassuring the people that he was not afraid to die.
“I don’t know what will happen now.” King said in his speech, “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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”
The analogy refers to Moses, leader of the people of Israel, as they seek life in a Promised Land. Before they can reach it, however, God chooses to show Moses what it will look like before his people can enter. Shortly after that, Moses died, leaving his successor Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.