MountainWings†††††† A MountainWings Moment
#5015†††††††††† Wings Over The Mountains of Life

I've Been To The Mountain Top

Listen to the actual speech:
(the text below contains some material not in the audio version)

Audio Part One          Audio Part Two

Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 3, 1968, Memphis, TN

Thank you very kindly, my friends.  As I listened to Ralph
Abernathy in his eloquent and generous introduction and then
thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.  It's
always good to have your closest friend and associate say something
good about you.  And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have
in the world.

I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning.
You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.
Something is happening in Memphis, something is happening in our world.

And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with
the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view
of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me,
"Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?"

I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children
in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or
rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the
promised land.  And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.

I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus.
And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes
assembled around the Parthenon and I would watch them around the
Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

But I wouldn't stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire.
And I would see developments around there, through various emperors
and leaders.  But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick
picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic
life of man.  But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm named had
his habitat.  And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his
ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg.

But I wouldn't stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president
by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that
he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling
with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation.  And come with an
eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

But I wouldn't stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say,
"If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th
century, I will be happy."  Now that's a strange statement to make,
because the world is all messed up.

The nation is sick.  Trouble is in the land.  Confusion all around.
That's a strange statement.

But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you
see the stars.  And I see God working in this period of the twentieth
century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.
Something is happening in our world.

The masses of people are rising up.  And wherever they are
assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa;
Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia;
Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee the cry is always
the same, "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we
have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple
with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through
history, but the demands didn't force them to do it.

Survival demands that we grapple with them.

Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace.  But now,
no longer can they just talk about it.  It is no longer a choice between
violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done,
and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of
their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect,
the whole world is doomed.

Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period,
to see what is unfolding.  And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be
in Memphis.

This section is NOT on the audio portion,
The text for Part 2 of the audio follows this omitted section:
Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching
where they didn't itch, and laughing when they were not tickled.

But that day is all over.  We mean business now, and we are
determined to gain our rightful place in God's world.

And that's all this whole thing is about.  We aren't engaged in
any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody.
We are saying that we are determined to be men.  We are
determined to be people.  We are saying that we are God's
children.  And that we don't have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history?

It means that we've got to stay together.  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 salves
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.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are.

The issue is injustice.

The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its
dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.

Now, we've got to keep attention on that.  That's always the
problem with a little violence.  You know what happened the other day,
and the press dealt only with the window-breaking.

I read the articles.  They very seldom got around to mentioning the
fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike,
and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in
dire need of a doctor.

They didn't get around to that.

Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again,
in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be.  And force
everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's
children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through
dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come
out.  That's the issue.

And we've got to say to the nation: we know it's coming out.
For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are
willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

We aren't going to let any mace stop us.  We are masters in our
nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know
what to do, I've seen them so often.

I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that
majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street
Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out.

And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did
come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let
nobody turn me round."  Bull Connor next would say,
"Turn the fire hoses on."  And as I said to you the other night,
Bull Connor didn't know history.

He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics
that we knew about.  And that was the fact that there was a
certain kind of fire that no water could put out.

And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water.
If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been

If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled,
but we knew water.

That couldn't stop us.  And we just went on before the dogs and
we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and
we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I
see freedom in the air."

And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes
we were stacked in there like sardines in a can.  And they would throw
us in, and old Bull would say, "Take them off," and they did; and we
would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome."

And every now and then we'd get in the jail, and we'd see the jailers
looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being
moved by our words and our songs.

And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to;
and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our
struggle in Birmingham.

Now we've got to go on to Memphis just like that. I call upon
you to be with us Monday.

Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we're going into
court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction.

All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper."
If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country,
maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment
privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that
over there.

But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press.
Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest
for right.

And so just as I say, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around.
We are going on.

We need all of you.  And you know what's beautiful tome, is to
see all of these ministers of the Gospel.  It's a marvelous picture.

Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations
of the people more than the preacher?

Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say,
"Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness
like a mighty stream."

Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus,
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me
to deal with the problems of the poor."

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of
these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle
for many years; he's been to jail for struggling; but he's still
going on, fighting for the rights of his people.

Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list,
but time will not permit.  But I want to thank them all.

And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren't
concerned about anything but themselves.
And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry.

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.

It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day,
God's preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta,
the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee.
This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our
external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.

Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor when you
compare us with white society in America.  We are poor.
Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us
together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the
world, with the exception of nine.

Did you ever think about that?
After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain,
West Germany, France, and I could name the others,
the 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.

We don't have to argue with anybody.  We don't have to curse and
go around acting bad with our words.  We don't need any bricks
and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need
to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in
our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that
you're not treating his children right.  And we've come by here
to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment,
where God's children are concerned.

Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda
that we must follow.  And our agenda calls for withdrawing
economic support from you."

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.

And what is the other bread company, Jesse?
Tell them not to buy Hart's bread.

As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have
been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.

We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in
their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can
begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs
and the rights of these men who are on strike.

And then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do
what is right.

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 Bankówe want a "bank-in"
movement in Memphis.

So go by the savings and loan association.
I'm not asking you something 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're just telling you to
follow what we're doing. Put your money there.

You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis.
Take out your insurance there.  We want to have an "insurance-in."

Now these are some practical things we can do.  We begin the
process of building a greater economic base.  And at the same
time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts.  I ask you
to follow through here.

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to
give ourselves to this struggle until the end.  Nothing would be
more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We've got to
see it through.  And when we have our march, you need to be
there.  Be concerned about your brother.  You may not be on
strike.  But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some
questions about some vital matters in life.  At points, he wanted
to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than
Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base.

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical
and theological debate.  But Jesus immediately pulled that question
from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem
and Jericho.  And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves.

You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.
They didn't stop to help him.  And finally a man of another race came by.
He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by
proxy.  But with him, administering first aid, and helped the man
in need.

Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man,
because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be
concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to
determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop.

At times we say they were busy going to church meetings,
an ecclesiastical gathering and they had to get on down to Jerusalem
so they wouldn't be late for their meeting.

At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that
"One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a
human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony."

And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they
were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to
organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility.

Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from
the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me.

It's possible that these men were afraid.

You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road.

Begin Audio Part Two Below:    Audio Part Two

I can remember, I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in
Jerusalem.  We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to
Jericho.  And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife,
"I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable."

It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for
ambushing.  You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1,200
miles, or rather 1,200 feet above sea level.  And by the time you
get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're
about 2,200 feet below sea level.  That's a dangerous road.

In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass."
And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked
over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still

Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely
faking.  And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt,
in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy

And so the first question that the Priest asked, the first question that
the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"

But then the Good Samaritan came by.  And he reversed the question:
"If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

That's the question before you tonight.  Not, "If I stop to help the
sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually
spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?"

The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will
happen to me?"  The question is, "If I do not stop to help the
sanitation workers, what will happen to them?"  That's the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness.  Let us stand with a
greater determination.  And let us move on in these powerful days,
these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.

We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.
And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing
the first book that I had written.  And while sitting there autographing
books, a black woman came up.  The only question I heard from her was,
"Are you Martin Luther King?"

And I was looking down writing, and I said, "Yes."  And the next minute
I felt something beating on my chest.  Before I knew it I had been
stabbed by this demented woman.

I was rushed to Harlem Hospital.  It was a dark Saturday afternoon.
And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the
tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery.
And once that's punctured, you drown in your own blood,
that's the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I
had merely sneezed, I would have died.  Well, about four days later,
they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been
opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the
wheel chair in the hospital.

They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from
all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in.

I read a few, but one of them I will never forget.
I had received one from the President and the Vice-President.
I've forgotten what those telegrams said.  I'd received a visit and
a letter from the Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what
that letter said.

But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl
who was a student at the White Plains High School.  And I looked
at that letter, and I'll never forget it.

It said simply, "Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the
White Plains High School."  She said, "While it should not matter,
I would like to mention that I'm a white girl.  I read in the paper
of your misfortune, and of your suffering.  And I read that if you had
sneezed, you would have died.  And I'm simply writing you to say
that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze."

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I
didn't sneeze.  Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been
around here in 1960, when students all over the South started
sitting in at lunch counters.

And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up
for the best in the American dream.  And taking the whole nation
back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by
the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the

If I had sneezed I wouldn't have been around here in 1961 when we
decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in
interstate travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1962, when
Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up.

And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are
going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed!

If I had sneezed I wouldn't have been here in 1963, when the
black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of
this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later that year, in
August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama to
see the great movement there.

If I had sneezed I wouldn't have been in Memphis to see a
community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.

And they were telling me, now it doesn't matter now.  It really
doesn't matter what happens now.  I left Atlanta this morning,
and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.
The pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the
delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane.

And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure
that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out
everything carefully.  And we've had the plane protected and
guarded all night."

And then I got into Memphis.  And some began to say the threats,
or talk about the threats that were out of 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 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.

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.

Listen to most of the actual speech:
Audio Part One          Audio Part Two

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