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MLK: I've Been to the Mountaintop

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The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final address April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final address April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were in the city to support an ongoing strike by sanitation workers, the focus of a large portion of the sermon. King gives equal weight to the ongoing nature of the struggle for human rights and the paramount importance of nonviolence for the survival of humanity.

On Human Rights

King reminded the congregation that the fight for human rights was an international struggle:

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; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

On Nonviolence

King drove home how vital it is, and that modern weaponry has lunged humanity into an existential crisis:

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.

"We go up together, or we go down together."

He continued on to discuss the importance of the struggle, regardless of how painful it becomes:

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school -- be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

On Death

And finally, King spoke to his own mortality and how he was at peace with dying before the struggle was complete. King had spoken at length before about the democratizing nature of death, and how it should not be feared, but his comments in the closing passage of his last speech seemed particularly fatalistic and, in retrospect, prophetic:

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 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!

King was assassinated the next day.


View a hard copy at The King Center

Read the entire transcript here