Friday, April 04, 2008

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks in Memphis

Excerpt from the final speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968) in Memphis, during the sanitation workers' strike, on the eve of his assassination (the full audio version is here).

A year earlier, on April 30, 1967, Dr. King made a powerful speech on Vietnam at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Here's an excerpt:
Now, let me make it clear in the beginning, that I see this war as an unjust, evil, and futile war. I preach to you today on the war in Vietnam because my conscience leaves me with no other choice. The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. "Ye shall know the truth," says Jesus, "and the truth shall set you free." Now, I've chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal. [The full text is here.]
A personal note...

I was having dinner with friends at their dilapidated brownstone in Harlem on the night of the assassination. We were just ten blocks from the rioting that resulted in at least one serious injury a cab driver who was dragged from his car and beaten. I was a social worker at the time, fresh out of college, and these friends, an middle-aged African American couple with twelve children, were also my clients. We were sitting around the table and talking after a fine dinner when two of their teenage sons came into the kitchen and reported that "they've shot Martin Luther King." The riots in Harlem were already on the TV news, so we debated whether I, a white person in a suddenly-hostile environment, should spend the night thereas they strongly suggested. We decided instead that the teenage boys would escort me to my nearby car, which I foolishly kept in Manhattan at the time, and then to the onramp for the West Side Highway. I made it to my apartment at West 83rd and Columbus without incident.

Few, if any, political or moral leaders can lay any claim to greatness since World War II. King stands at the top of a very short list.

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