Martin Luther King Jr. foresaw his own demise a day before his assassination, fifty years ago.
The civil rights icon delivered a sermon at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 April 1968. It would prove to be his last public appearance.
The following day, King would be slain by James Earl Ray, as he stood on the second balcony of The Lorraine Motel. He was 39-years-old.
In his ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ address, King preached a vision of a future where black people lived equally, both in a domestic and financial sense, but how he might not be present at said time.
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!
The speech, (which you can read in full below), may have come easy to King – his father and grandfather had been baptist teachers, familiar with addressing a number of people.
Growing up, his family lived in Auburn Avenue community in Atlanta, known at the time as a ‘black Wall Street’ thanks to its prosperous businesses and black churches.
Yet he was never far from the prejudice which was rife in the South.
At Booker T. Washington High School, King was said to be a precocious student, who ended up skipping both the ninth and eleventh grades before entering Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944 just aged 15.
Extraordinarily, King expressed little interest in the church and religious practise, largely shunning it as sentimental.
However, after a Bible class undertaken in junior year, he is said to have became hooked and began working towards a career in the ministry, much to the delight of his father.
Yet it was Morehouse College President, Benjamin E. Mays, who’s said to have influenced King perhaps more than any of his family.
He encouraged King to view Christianity as a force for social change and racial equality.
After Morehouse, King enrolled at Boston University, where he met and later married aspiring singer, Coretta Scott. He graduated with a PhD in 1955. From then on out, things only grew.
Between 1957 and 1968, King travelled over six million miles and spoke over 2,500 times, hopping from protest to protest, all in the name of black America getting its foot in the door.
He would eventually go on to become the youngest man ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, at just thirty-five.
Ever the selfless public figure, King donated his his prize money of $54,123 (around $450,000 in today’s money) to the civil rights movement.