Dr. King’s Mounatintop speech, April 3, 1968

He was just 39 years old.

Fate is a strong word that I myself do not like to use. Fate means that we do not have control over how we lead our lives. Fate means that we are hurling towards a point that was made for us by an outside force. There are many examples are moments in history where fate seemed to be at work, you might even have a few that you tell yourself was fate at work. On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered what is not only one of the greatest speeches ever but also a moment where fate took a stand. 

Commonly known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, it was given at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. King was a great man with words and he is most often known for another speech, the “I Have a Dream” which he gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And while that speech was great, the Mountaintop was a moment in history unlike any other. King had been in Memphis to support the Memphis sanitation strike, which had been going on for almost two months. And so he gave a speech that was very much for its time, one of the struggle for civil rights, nonviolent protests, and challenging the United States to live up to its promise of man been equal. King spoke in only a way he could and then towards the end, he steps into the spotlight of fate.

Dr. King giving his speech. Picture taken by Vernon Matthews

“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. 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.”

The next day Dr. King was assassinated. Did he know that he would die the next day? Probably not, but he knew that his time was limited. It was a dangerous time to be a black man wanting freedom in the Jim Crow south, threats against his life were not uncommon. King almost didn’t speak that night. He was battling a sore throat and fever and asked someone else to take his place that night at the mason temple. However, sensing the disappointment in the crowd, King was asked to brave the bad weather of the night and how he felt and to go see the people.

Outside the room where Dr. King was shot

He spoke and those who were there say that they knew right away that it was a special night. He spoke of the times and troubles of the civil rights movement but also spoke that this was the best time to be alive. He had seen what was ahead for not only those fighting for freedom but also for those who believed in the fight for equal justice for all. 

You can still visit the Temple and of course walk the streets of Memphis just like Dr. King did. I’ve been to Memphis a few times and with every trip, I learn a bit more about the time and life of the struggle that has shaped the city.

Doorway to the library at the civil rights museum.

I always ask myself the same question, are we at the mountaintop, or are we still climbing? Will there come a day when we as people reach out to Dr. King and meet him at the top and look out at a better world? These are dark times but they have been darker before. We still have a long way to go till all of mankind is standing next to each other as brothers and sisters but that climb is still going.

All pictures unless noted by me. If you enjoyed this trip to Memphis, please share and like and follow for more trips into history.

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