Martin Luther King, Jr. and the True Meaning of Bravery
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was feeling ill on the night he gave what many consider a prophetic speech to a crowd gathered to demand better pay for black garbage collectors in Memphis. He had initially declined to speak, but when a friend implored him to address the crowd, he reluctantly agreed, and spoke " from the Spirit," without a prepared speech or notes.
The spiritual leader of the modern civil rights movement had received many death threats. He had even been stabbed, and had come within an inch of losing his life. He had warned in earlier sermons that he would very likely not live to see the end of the struggle. This speech, however, was delivered the night before Dr. King was shot and killed on the balcony of the the Lorraine Motel.
On the last night of his life, Dr. King said to the gathered crowd:
"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!"
Later, after his speech ended, witnesses claimed to see "tears streaming down his face," and not only Dr. King, but many in the the audience also wept openly "because of the power of this man who spoke on that night."
To many, his words– and the way they were spoken on that particular night– suggested he sensed that his journey was about to end. Whether or not this is true, he was well aware that his life's work had incited people filled with hate and intolerance to want to take drastic measures to silence him. And yet he marched on, even when he was feeling too sick to march at all.
Among Dr. King's most enduring legacies are the beauty and truth of his message, and his ability to inspire others with it :
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.
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.
To understand what his words and actions meant to the generation coming of age in this this time of social and political upheaval, watch this short but powerful documentary by Cinematography Professor Carl Vincent Clausen, filmed in a Columbus Ohio school the morning after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered: