Fifty Years Ago Today – I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

I felt the need today to take a break from my Hot Stove baseball posts.


Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his last speech: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The following day, he was assassinated.

I have written annual messages for the MLK holiday since 2002, and the one I sent in 2012 was about this speech.


So I will repeat myself from January of 2012, adding some photos to the narrative:


In 2009, my wife Rita and I traveled to Jordan to see the archeological wonders of Petra. On our return to Amman, we stopped at Mount Nebo where Moses is said to have stood to view the Promised Land. Although Moses had led the Israelites across the desert to this point, he was not allowed by God to continue with them to the Promised Land. Joshua would lead them the rest of the way.


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The Promised Land as seen by Moses from Mount Nebo


Fast forward from biblical times to April 3, 1968. Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers who were marching with a simple message: “I AM A MAN.”


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That night, at the Mason Temple, King gave what would be his last speech: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” King prophetically spoke of his likely early death and that he would not get to see the full fruits of his labor in the Civil Rights Movement. “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.”


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MLK – “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”


One of the Memphis hosts for that speech at the Mason Temple was Reverend Billy Kyles. The next day, Kyles drove to the Lorraine Motel to pick up King to take him to dinner. He joined King in his 2nd-floor room with Ralph Abernathy and went with King to the balcony to speak to supporters in the parking lot. A few seconds after Kyles left King alone on the balcony, James Earl Ray fired his shot.


In the summer of 2011, Rita and I were in Memphis with our friends Larry and Diana Brewer. We visited the Lorraine Motel, which is now the “National Civil Rights Museum” featuring excellent exhibits on major milestones of the Civil Rights Movement. A compelling reminder of the times is a city bus that you can board, and when you sit near Rosa Parks, a recording is activated to tell you to move to the back of the bus.


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The museum tour begins with an introductory movie narrated by Reverend Kyles. At the end of the movie, we were informed that Kyles was in the building filming a piece with CNN newsman T.J. Holmes in anticipation of the opening of the MLK Memorial in Washington. We went to the second floor to watch the filming and then had the opportunity to visit with the gracious Reverend Kyles at almost the exact spot where he had been at that fateful moment in 1968. In the photo below, T.J. Holmes is on the left, Kyles is in the center and the two gentlemen on the right are retired sanitation workers who were among those 1968 marchers wearing “I AM A MAN” placards.




The museum continues across the street to the rooming house from which James Earl Ray fired his shot. There are exhibits related to Ray’s planning and capture, and we were reminded that Ray at the time was a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary.



Lonnie and the Lorraine Motel



Diana, Rev. Kyles, Rita


You can hear and read the speech at this link.



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