The House Black Caucus honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 51st anniversary of his death in Memphis, Tennessee with a reading of what is known as King’s final “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech, even as there is division amongst the group.
Dr. King came to Memphis for a third time in less than three weeks on April 3, 1968, to support the striking sanitation workers in a non-violent way after the second march erupted into violence and was called off, as explained by Stanford University’s King Institute.
King delivered his inspirational and optimistic speech at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple, which he eerily closed by saying he wasn’t afraid to die.
The next day, as he waited to go to dinner at Reverend Billy Kyles’ home, King was fatally shot at The Lorraine Hotel located at 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis.
Division In The Black Caucus
Ironically, over the past week, Rep. John DeBerry has been the subject of reports by Daily Memphian that the Black Caucus is at odds with him over his recent votes which seems to have brought to a head with a vote in favor of Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Accounts (ESA) legislation.
As reported by The Tennessee Star, Rep. DeBerry delivered impassioned, if not sermon-like remarks to wrap up the House Education Committee’s deliberation on the proposed ESA legislation. Rep. DeBerry’s opportunity to make the speech was strategically planned by Committee Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis), although it didn’t seem to move any of the other Democrat members, all of whom voted against the measure.
As The Star reported, Chairman Hardaway called an emergency meeting of the Black Caucus after last week’s House floor session, but later declined to comment on what was discussed.
The day prior, when The Star offered Rep. DeBerry an opportunity to address the rumors related to his vote on the ESA bill, Rep. DeBerry said he didn’t want to fan the flames and said he is appreciative of prayers for him.
This week, following the House floor session on Thursday, the full House Democratic Caucus held a closed meeting and Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) confirmed that some Democrats have raised the issue of Rep. DeBerry’s votes, the Daily Memphian reported.
Meanwhile, as Knoxville Democrat Rep. Rick Staples has sexual harassment allegations lodged against him, he told WKRN News 2 any words or actions that have been misinterpreted is due an apology, and added, “Unfortunately, this has been used in a tool of an avenue of political character assassination.”
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On The 51st Anniversary Of His Assassination
About a half hour into the House floor session, during the Welcoming and Honoring portion of the agenda, Speaker Casada recognized Rep. and Chairman of the Black Caucus G. A. Hardaway who asked that Black Caucus members meet in the well.
Making their way to the well of the House floor, members of the all Democratic House Black Caucus joined Hardaway. Members included House Minority Leader Karen Camper, Jesse Chism, Barbara Cooper, Vincent Dixie, London Lamar, Harold Love, Larry Miller, Rick Staples and Joe Towns. Rep. Johnny Shaw was excused and, by the delay in leaving his desk, it wasn’t clear that Rep. DeBerry had been aware of the plans of the Black Caucus.
As Rep. Hardaway stood in front of the podium, the other Black Caucus members with the exception of Rep. DeBerry stood to either side of him, each holding a packet of paper.
“To the gentle ladies and gentlemen of the House, as you know this is the anniversary,” asking for everyone’s attention, “this is the date, April 4th when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis. Quite simply, as Pastor Samuel Billy Kyles said on more than one occasion before his passing, ‘You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream.’”
“This morning, we’ll have excerpts from Dr. King’s last speech given on April 3rd, and members of the Black Caucus will recite lines from that speech and I would ask if you would listen closely and a lot of what was relevant then is relevant today.”
After flipping through papers on the podium, “Something is happening in Memphis. Something is happening in our world,” began Rep. Hardaway.
Several members came forward to read most of the now-famous speech that Dr. King delivered on his final day.
Rep. Towns’ Personal Perspective
When the reading concluded and was met with standing applause by the other House members, Rep. Towns returned to the podium, “Members of the General Assembly and to the listening audience, thank you participating in the celebration. Let me share a personal story with you that I rarely talk about.”
“In 1968 on this day I was a kid. I lived at 375 Mulberry,” the same street as The Lorraine Hotel where King was assassinated, “with my grandmother, and obviously that’s my grandmother, she was much older. She was aware of what was happening in the world.”
“The Lorraine Motel,” pointing down to the podium with his left index finger, “which was like from where I’m standing,” then looking out toward the back of the House chambers, Rep. Towns gestured and continued, “to just beyond the back of the building where the Senate is. And, she and I and my Dad actually heard the shot that actually murdered Dr. King.”
“So she actually jumped up and said ‘I bet that’s Dr. King.‘”
“Now as kid I didn’t know what’s going on, I didn’t understand it, because I was young. And from her window, looking out the window down toward The Lorraine Motel, you could just see just hordes and hordes of police officers and all the frenzy that had actually taken place.”
“As a kid, I played there in the swimming pool, going to the store for people, selling papers in that area because it was so close to the house and at that time older people would allow kids to make money and so forth. But in the riots also, just participating as a young kid, grown people taking us there just participating started my trek to being active in our communities and I wanted to make a change in our country.”
“It’s been traumatizing and I rarely think about it. But, on today’s date, it just boils over and bubbles up of that dark period in my childhood.”
“But, I’ve seen this nation change in many ways for the better. That’s one constant thing about this country is that we are capable and we have shown that we are able to evolve and change for the better and we’ve done that and been a beacon to the world with that.”
“Nelson Mandela said something once I didn’t understand. He said that America is a beacon to the world. And, as a youngster I didn’t understand that either.”
“But our ideals being exported around the world that we could never take for granted what the power of it is. And we can never take for granted that, we have to treasure and value it here at home. We’re the best. We have some ways to go, but we’re still the best.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
As Rep. Towns turned away from the podium, the House members stood in applause.
Rep. DeBerry Brings Dr. King’s Message To Life
Then Rep. DeBerry came to the podium, and without hesitation, began speaking “I knew one of those garbage men. They lived right next to me.”
“I remember when my father brought the ‘I Am A Man’ sign home,” continued Rep. DeBerry, “and set it front of my grandmother’s television, because we had come home from Crockett County in order to be there for the speech that Dr. King made.”
I stood against the wall,” pointing behind him, “just like I just stood right here, because there was standing room only. And as a kid, a young boy, a young teenager standing against a wall standing there and listening to that speech and seeing the anguish on that man’s face. I saw the anguish on my father’s face as he watched the proceedings here.”
“The whole point of this today is to say something that my father said to me, that my grandfather said to me, that my great grandfather said to me. My great grandfather had absolutely no education. He plowed mules. My grandfather had two years of education. He plowed mules. My father, he was the most educated person in his family, a Korean War veteran who came home and raised his children to understand that nobody sets your limits and nobody sets your boundaries.”
“Dr. King didn’t die in a hospital with his children around him and his wife holding his hand. But he died in a pool of blood in a cheap hotel there in Memphis, Tennessee.”
“The fact of the matter is, that man’s sacrifice means nothing if we learn nothing. It means absolutely nothing if we don’t grow, if we don’t move,” as Rep. Hardaway, standing behind Rep. DeBerry, nods his head in agreement.
“The man said in Washington, D.C. that he had been to the mountaintop.”
“It does none of us any good if we stay on the mountain. We got to come down off the mountain, get down on streets, in the roads, in the valleys, and we’ve got to do the work that they talked about.”
“I was taught to be a man. I was taught to be a man. And those men holding that sign, I want to hold a sign to say that I am still a man.”
“And that means that nobody has the right – nobody, not party, not position – nobody has the right to tell me how to think, has the right to tell me how to live, have the right to give me my morals, my ethics and my principles.”
“If that’s what exists right now,” Rep. DeBerry said even more emphatically, “in the state of Tennessee and in America, then that man died for nothing.”
“If somebody, any group, any group, has the right to look another man in the face, a grown man and tell him what he better do, then we haven’t moved at all. Not at all.”
“And every one of us needs to do an introspective examination of ourselves, of ourselves, and ask ourselves if we’ve learned anything, if we’ve moved on, if we’ve grown and if we’ve matured.”
“That man said that he wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” continued Rep. DeBerry with Rep. Hardaway again nodding in agreement.
“And every one of us, black, white, red, yellow or polka dot all of us have got to ask ourselves, what do you see when you see each other? What do you see? Do you see a person who has the absolute Constitutional God-given right to be themselves as they see fit, whether you like it or not? Or, do you see something that you can manipulate?”
“Lord, have mercy, that’s why those folks were marching in the first place. Because somebody else told them how they had to be a man, a woman, a person and wrote a script that said that you sit on the back of the bus, that you go to the zoo on Tuesday, that when you go to the Orpheum, you sit in the balcony, that you go to a school like I did in 1956 when everybody looked like me.”
Rep. DeBerry shared, taking off his glasses, “My daddy taught me nobody has the right to write your script. He integrated the school in ’68, he raised me to be a man, and like Dr. King said in that speech, he said it to me and my brothers over and over and over and over again, you don’t scratch your head when it ain’t itchin’, you don’t grin when it ain’t funny. You be a man.”
Pointing his index finger onto the podium to the rhythm of his speech, “I’m a man. I am a man. And I’m a man, because a man raised me and taught me how to be a man.”
“And I want every one of us, each of us, as Americans, as Tennesseans, take the God-given right to be what God has made YOU to be.”
“We thank God for Dr. King. We thank God for those nameless men and women, black and white, or we wouldn’t be here where we are today. As a country, we decided to change. As a country, let’s keep on changing.”
As Rep. DeBerry turned away from the podium, it seemed instantaneous that the House members nearly jumped from the chairs in applause.
With that, Hardaway was recognized, at which time he requested that Speaker Casada come down for a photo with the caucus.
The Lorraine Motel in Memphis became the National Civil Rights Museum in 1991 and is open to visitors six days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding Tuesdays, with extended hours to 6 p.m. between Memorial Day to Labor Day. Tennessee residents with a state-issued ID may visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. to closing, excluding holidays.
The video of the Floor session can be watched here, with Speaker Casada recognizing Rep. Hardaway at 31:50 which was followed by the reading of Dr. King’s “I’ve Been To The Mountain Top”; Rep. Towns sharing his personal experience at 1:02:10; Rep. DeBerry bringing his experience to life at 1:05:05.
Dr. King’s “I’ve Been To The Mountain Top” speech as emotionally delivered by the House Black Caucus members can be read here:
Rep. G. A. Hardaway – As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides assembled around the Parthenon and I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
Rep. Jesse Chism – I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. I would come up with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
But I wouldn’t stop there. 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 twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; — the cry is always the same — “We want to be free.”
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem – And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, 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.
I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing where they didn’t tickle. But that day is over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
Rep. Rick Staples – And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Rep. London Lamar – Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that where thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out.”
“That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to this nation: we know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”
Rep. Joe Towns – We ain’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do, I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they would come; but they just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round.” Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.
That just couldn’t stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we looked at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in to the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull Connor would say, “Take them off,” and they did; and we would just go in to the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by other words and our songs. And the power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull Connor into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.
Now going to Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us in Memphis. We go out this Monday.
Rep. Harold Love – Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let the dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson – We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones and whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, “When God speaks, who can prophecy.” Again, with Amos “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed and he has anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
Rep. Karen Camper – It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who cannot eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor when you compare us with our white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name others, the Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
Rep. Larry Miller We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy—what is the other bread?—Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank—we want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. So go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We’re just telling you to follow what we’re doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Rep. Vincent Dixie – But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them over there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by.
And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not if I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
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. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.
Rep. Harold Love – It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
Rep. G. A. Hardaway – And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961 when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation and interstate travel. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten up their backs. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there. If I hadn’t sneezed, I would have been in Memphis to see the community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me, now it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
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.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.