The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated forty four years ago today. The day before his assassination he gave what would become known as the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” Speech. Next to his Letters from a Birmingham Jail these have always been my favorite words of his. The last 3 minutes sends chills up my spine every time I watch it.
What’s always touched me about this speech was the subtle prophecy we hear in Dr. King’s words and tone. It feels like the end is near, like something terrible is on the horizon. Still, there’s also a hope and contentment in his voice. One that let’s you know he’s secure in his faith, secure in what he’s dedicated his life to, and secure in where he’s headed next.
Forty Four years have gone by since they killed Martin. Forty Four. More years than I’ve been on this Earth yet, still so much of what was wrong with our country then is still wrong with our country today. Sure, we’ve made progress, some if it obvious, some of it not so obvious. But still, at our country’s foundation, at the heart of everything America is supposed to be about is the concept of Equality of Opportunity. The idea that, for the citizens of our country, anything is possible. But that’s not the case. Privilege, in its various forms, still trumps equality. Until that changes our country will never be the country Dr. King hoped it would be–the same country Jefferson and Washington and all those other revolutionaries fought for.
It’s hard not to think about Trayvon today. Dr. King’s assassination scarred the already scarred tissue of our country. It left this huge, gaping gash right near our nation’s heart. In the years after, we bandaged the scar and tried to move on. As legal, overt racism continued its slow death, we used the patchwork fabric of integration, Affirmative Action, and political correctness to cover our scar. But as other more pervasive villains, like crack and AIDS and institutional racism continued to eat away at that patchwork fabric we still never really looked underneath to see what became of our great excrescence. Race relations seemed to get better. We put a couple black men at the top of few Fortune 500 companies. We put a black man in the White House and all of a sudden we started throwing around phrases like “Post-Racial.”
But then George Zimmerman, a self-described “White Hispanic” killed Trayvon Martin. And with Trayvon’s death, we’ve finally gone ahead and ripped off the fabric, peeled back the bandage and really examined our scar. And though I’m disappointed, I’m not shocked or even surprised to find that it hasn’t healed, it hasn’t even scabbed. The hard truth we must all face is the reality that our nation’s biggest scar, the scar of racism in all its forms and iterations, has actually festered.
Later today, Dr. J is going to be sharing his own personal reflections on MLK, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and take 20 minutes to listen to this speech, remember Dr. King and think about whether we’ve really come that far as a people and as a country.
And then I got into 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!
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.