Martin Luther King Jr Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January although his actual birthday is the 15th of January. He was born in 1929 and would have been 84 years old had his life not been cut short.
In a speech delivered one day before his assassination Dr. King said, “Let us keep the issues where they are. 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,” he said.
Shortly before he died, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his impending death. He was ill the night before his death and couldn’t give the sermon he planned. The next day was one of the happiest of his life.
From American Radio Works:
In a speech Benjamin Hooks delivered a decade after King’s death (also featured in this anthology), he recalled King’s final sermon: “I remember that night when he finished, he stopped by quoting the words of that song that he loved so well, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’ He never finished. He wheeled around and took his seat and to my surprise, when I got a little closer, I saw tears streaming down his face. Grown men were sitting there weeping openly because of the power of this man who spoke on that night.”
King had warned in previous sermons that he might die before the struggle ended. It was not the first time he told listeners he’d “seen the promised land.” King had been living with death threats for years. No one in King’s circle thought this was his final address. Later, Young wrote: “Did [King] know? He always knew some speech would be his last. Was he afraid? Not on your life!”
Young said the next day was one of King’s happiest. “Surrounded by his brother, his staff and close friends of the movement,” Young wrote, “He laughed and joked all day until it was time to go to dinner at 6 PM.” King stepped onto the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel, checking the weather to decide whether to bring a coat. As he leaned over the railing, talking with Jesse Jackson and others below, King was fatally shot.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot by a cowardly sniper, a man whose name I won’t mention. He deserves to be forgotten.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by the poet Julia Ward Howe who had heard a regiment singing John Brown’s Body. She went to sleep that night at a hotel in D.C. She awoke with a spectacular dream and wrote the words for the song, called the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
MLK’s Favorite Hymn:
The man who said...make real the promises of democracy…from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood…was murdered by an ignorant hate-filled coward.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of equality, justice, and brotherhood – brotherhood for each one of us, not division, not hatred, not wrongful deeds or drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. He wanted the struggle to meet physical force with soul force…he said the freedom of white and black are inextricably tied.
He spoke of peace and love.
The following is an abridged version of his I have a dream speech:
This section of his speech is inspiring as it is heartbreaking…
…I have a dream Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
~ Martin Luther King Jr.