[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he day before he was shot and killed 46 years ago today on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a 45-minute speech on city’s sanitation strike. It was about labor rights, racial justice and non-violence but, in the end, it became personal and transcendent in a way that has made it haunting and famous.
The last ten minutes build in a defiant way that now seems foreboding. He talks about an early failed attempt on his life in Manhattan, where he was stabbed in the chest while signing books. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital. He says the stab wound was close to his aorta and he would have died if he had so much has sneezed — “drowned in his own blood.” He says that would have been terrible because he would have missed the later great moments of the civil rights struggle. No ride for freedom. No activism in Georgia. No Birmingham. No “I have a Dream” speech on the National Mall. No Selma… “I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.”
“But it doesn’t matter now,” he then says. It seems an odd note. He talks about the extra security procedures airport personnel took on his flight to Memphis the day before. When they landed, he heard rumors about threats being made on his life.
“Well I don’t know what will happen now,” he says. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. 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.”