Monday, January 16, 2006



January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968

Excerpts from At Canaan's Edge, the conclusion of Tayolor Branch's trilogy of America In The King Years, the last chapter -- the prophetic final speech in Memphis:

[H]e meandered into another speech theme to recap the parable of the Good Samaritan. "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers," he concluded, "what will happen to them? That's the question. . . . 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."

[King talked about the time in 1958 when a demented woman stabbed him at a Harlem bookstore; the doctor said the blade would have severed his aorta if he so much as sneezed. Then he spoke briefly about a threat to bomb the airplane on which he flew to Memphis.]

He frowned. "And some began to say the threats — or talk about the threats — that were out, 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." King paused. "Because I've been to the mountaintop," he declared in a trembling voice. Cheers and applause erupted. Some people jerked involuntarily to their feet, and others rose slowly like a choir.

"And I don't mind," he said, trailing off beneath the second and third waves of response. "Like anybody I would like to live — a long life — longevity has its place." The whole building suddenly hushed, which let sounds of thunder and rain fall from the roof. "But I'm not concerned about that now," said King. "I just want to do God's will." There was a subdued call of "Yes!" in the crowd. "And he's allowed me to go up the mountain," King cried, building intensity. "And I've looked over. And I have s-e-e-e-e-e-n, the Promised Land."

His voice searched a long peak over the word "seen," then hesitated and landed with quick relief on "the promised land," as though discovering a friend. He stared out over the microphones with brimming eyes and the trace of a smile. "And I may not get there with you," he shouted, "but I want you to know, tonight ["Yes!"] that we as a people will get to the Promised Land!"
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