Jan. 19, 2019 — Fifty-one years ago this April, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was awaiting approval of permits from the City of Memphis for his second march in support of black city sanitation workers.
Five days earlier, he had led a peaceful demonstration that ended in panic after militant protesters showed up and incited the crowd, forcing police to break up the march.
After spending most of April 4, 1968, relaxing at the Lorraine Motel following his now famous “Mountaintop” speech the night before at a local church, he stepped onto the balcony of his second-floor motel room and exchanged light-hearted banter with friends who had gathered in the parking lot below.
It was in stark contrast to his mood the night before, which had carried regret over the failed march a week earlier, as well as a political environment that had become unpredictable.
His speech the night before, while meant to be a pep talk for those within the movement, had traces of his regret, as well as concern and deference to the hands of fate.
“It doesn’t really matter with me now,” he said during his speech to parishioners.
“I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I am not concerned about that now. ... I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land.”
Shortly after 6 p.m., standing on the balcony outside of room 306, his banter with friends was cut short by the loud crack of a gunshot.
He was taken to a hospital, where he never regained consciousness before being pronounced dead less than an hour later.
According to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with Dr. King that day, the Civil Rights leader “refused to be afraid of the risk of ambush or sabotage; he refused to stop what he was doing out of fear — because he did it out of courage and conviction for what was right.”
Fifty-one years later, we once again find ourselves in the midst of marches, protests and demonstrations as we grapple with a multitude of issues facing our nation, from immigration to gun control, the economy to climate change.
Regardless of where we stand on these issues as individuals, finding and agreeing on the solutions requires a collective desire to support each other’s right to voice opinions — and when in disagreement, to do so respectfully.
Fifty-one years ago this April, the life of Dr. King was taken by someone who did not believe in that principle.
As we remember his life and death, and reflect on the powerful message he spoke of equality and service to one another, we must also remember the equally powerful message of those words that he was forced to leave unspoken.