I can just imagine what that great orator and the founder of the Civil Rights Movement might be saying today. It could have been “I tried.” He would be talking about the recent killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This killing caused the nation’s people to respond and demonstrate by the thousands — white and black — over some eight days and nights.
That man who “tried” was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who elevated the conversation about race relationships in this country, until his assassination in 1968.
In 1956, in a little church in Montgomery, Alabama, a young, black preacher stood in the pulpit, and with a voice that rattled the timbers, spoke about man’s inhumanity to man and talked eloquently about the inequalities between white people and black people.
As an AP photographer, I was there covering Rosa Parks, a black woman, being fingerprinted after she was arrested for sitting in the wrong place on a city bus. Almost immediately King got involved, and he too was arrested. Both of these events were preceded by the killing of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old Chicago black boy in Mississippi, and Autherine Lucy, a black woman who was removed from the University of Alabama because she of her color. These three stories were in 1955.
These killings and racial treatment of these black people got the attention of the world. King spoke near and far, and with a voice and delivery that stirred the conversation about the inequality of race relationships — especially in the U.S. King also received the Nobel Prize for his efforts toward peace and equality.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968 by a white man, James Earl Ray. I also covered that story, but after King’s body was flown to Atlanta.
In his 1968 book, “Strength to Love,” King says, “The ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Also, at that time, King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
King traveled and spoke extensively about inequality.
Having spent some time with King, I feel that he would be upset with the current civil rights problems concerning the murder of George Floyd. However, he probably would have been excited at the new opportunities and challengers. There is little doubt in my mind that he would have gone to Minneapolis and talked from the pulpit, to street corner, to government officials and to the thousands of demonstrators who turned out, day and night. King’s strong and eloquent voice would have echoed through the building valleys, and the expansion of the Civil Rights Movement for the equal rights of all of mankind, black, white, or whatever.
I just know in my heart, that King would have stirred the emotions of mankind to join hands and hearts in the battle for legislation to protect people from police brutality, and a government seemingly not too interested in Civil Rights for all.
King, I think, would be angered by the current events, but anxious to get back into the fray. His voice would be an inspiration for all.
In a speech in Memphis, the evening before he was shot and killed by one bullet to the head, he gave one of his most provocative speeches “I’ve Been ToThe Mountain top.”
Toward the end of the speech, King refers to threats against his life and uses language that seems to foreshadow his impending death, but reaffirming that he was not afraid to die: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I do not fear any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
How prophetic. Yes, I feel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would be happy today.