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! 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!!
Excerpt from “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on 3rd April 1968 at Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee
Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr was assassinated on Thursday, April 4th 1968, the day after making a speech advocating unity, self-determination and cooperative economics for African Americans. He was in Memphis to support the 1,300 striking African American sanitation workers. The workers had gone on strike on Monday, February 12, 1968 because of the racism they had experienced on the job. The Mayor Henry Loeb added fuel to the fire by refusing to recognize the workers’ right to unionize. When Dr. King arrived in Memphis in April, the workers had been on strike for almost two months.
During his speech on April 3rd 1968 Dr. King spoke about the necessity for African Americans to unite. He said; “We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”
It has been said that Dr. King’s planned sermon for Sunday, April 7th was entitled “Why America May Go to Hell.” We will never know what he was planning to say on that day but it is very possible that his sermon could have sounded like the sermon for which the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is being vilified in America’s white media. White America seems to be more comfortable quoting Dr. King’s “I have A Dream” speech and conveniently forget every other speech of this great freedom fighter. They conveniently forget that Dr. King was an anti-poverty, pro-union activist. He was also a supporter of Reparations for Africans. In his book “Why we can’t wait” published in 1964, Dr. King writes; “No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of the labor of one human being by another. This law should be made to apply for American Negroes. The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.” Dr. King preached “Cooperative Economics” the third Kwanzaa principle “Ujima.” In his April 3rd 1968 speech he said; “The American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That's power right there, if we know how to pool it.”
Dr. King advised his audience at the Mason Temple in Memphis to show their support for the striking workers by boycotting certain businesses that were not supporting the strikers. On April 3rd 1968, speaking of the strike he said: “And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy -- what is the other bread? -- Wonder Bread.”
Invoking shades of Black Liberation Theology Dr King said: “It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. But not only that, we've got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I'm not asking you something that we don't do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an "insurance-in."
Tri-State Bank, founded in 1946 by Dr. J. E. Walker (founder of Universal Life Insurance) and his son A. Maceo Walker, was one of the largest African American owned businesses in Tennessee. The original headquarters site at the corner of Beale Street and Fourth Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bank has increased in size and services from one small building and five employees, to five branches and seventy employees. Tri-State Bank, as an African American financial institution, played an important role in the civil rights movement. Many local sit-ins were planned in the bank's boardroom and bank officials often kept the vault open at night to provide bail money for protesters.
Black Liberation Theology premises that the white church and white theologians had all failed in their duties to uphold biblical principles of helping the poor and marginalized of society: that White Christians were complicit in perpetuating the racism that plagued African Americans and it was no longer acceptable to leave the interpretation of the Bible to white Christians. African Americans need to take responsibility for their own religion and their own relationship with God.
On April 4th 1967, one year before his assassination Dr. King gave a speech at the Riverside Church in New York City entitled: Beyond Vietnam - A Time to Break Silence. In his speech he condemned the American government’s involvement in the Vietnam War. During that April 4th, 1967 speech he said “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” Dr King also quoted the famous African American poet Langston Hughes when he said; “O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath -- America will be!” King probably became a target for assassination right after that speech!
Martin Luther King Jr. was a revolutionary freedom fighter and that is why he was assassinated. White America could not allow him to continue leading African Americans when they realized he was not willing to stop after desegregating Montgomery, Alabama’s public transportation system. They were afraid that one day he might dream of becoming the first African President of the U.S.A. They killed the dreamer but not the dream.
Written in April 2008