On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
He’s remembered in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, along with others around the world. He’s honored with the most beloved statue on the mall in Washington, D.C.
The Saturday before his death he met with his staff in Atlanta and agonized over the divisions among the American people including in the civil rights movement, over the Vietnam War. He saw it as a tragedy and it weighted heavy on his heart and mind, but the Holy Spirit revived his spirit and he emerged triumphant and determined to carry on with the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.
He was determined to end the War in Vietnam; and he was unwavering in putting the civil rights movement’s goal of ending poverty with a job or a guaranteed income before the nation.
Dr. King knew that the bombs dropping in Vietnam was immorally killing young Americans and the Vietnamese abroad while our cities were exploding at home.
For many of us, before and after Dr. King, living in the shadow of his leadership, life, legacy and sacrificial death has now become a frame of reference for the rest of the world.
Dr. King is the only non-politician on the mall in Washington, DC. He was a non-violent activist man of peace. He not only believed in a better world, he dared to act to make it happen.
Dr. King led the movement that pulled down the cotton curtain that separated North from South. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy in Alabama, no longer leads the New South. The same Montgomery, Alabama that was home to the Confederacy with the pitter-patter of our marching feet transformed the South and elevated a nation.
These days it’s hard to imagine the violence and barbarism that was once the South but unfortunately the pockets of poverty still exist.
On Commerce Street in Montgomery, Alabama, we were displayed on the dock of the river chained and shackled and sold as commodities. A block down the street from George Wallace’s office was at the Capitol Building, and two blocks from Jefferson’s Davis’ White House in Montgomery as he succeeded from the Union and engaged in the tradition of slavery, segregation and sedition in our country. Against that backdrop of darkness, a powerful message of light over darkness, love over hate and healing over hurt was born.
Without a gun or a standing army, Dr. King emerged victorious. We marched and prayed and sacrificed. A New South is the key to a New America.
When Alabama played Clemson in football, the number one team in the nation, we could sit together by the thousands and cheer as the nation looked on by the millions, a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious audience of fans who just a few years ago were prohibited from gathering together for the game before it started.
Today when Alabama plays Clemson, black and white players play together on the field of competition joined by uniform color, not separated by skin color. They compete as brothers at these events.
Dr. King, the transformer, removed historic social barriers. He created a New South where all can vote and Jimmy Carter from Plains, Georgia and George W. Bush from Odessa, Texas, could become President of the United States; and an African American with a strange name, Barack Hussein Obama, could go to the White House.
These are all phenomenal events related to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He is the tallest tree in America’s forest of leadership. He’s the prime example that right wins over wrong, and love is stronger than hate.
This giant of a man, less than six feet tall, is a frame of reference of dignity for people around the world. Along with about eight staff members or disciples, together we went from a taxing staff meeting, a kind of Last Supper on Saturday in Atlanta, Georgia, to a sort of Palm Sunday experience on the mountaintop in church on April 3 and on to the crucifixion on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee.
At 6:00 p.m. on April 4th, Dr. King was crucified. We are now living the resurrection; continuing to fight for his hopes and dreams. I was blessed to know him, work with him, and walk with him and to have lived long enough to see many of his dreams come true.