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I've Been to the Mountaintop-Martin Luther King
04-04-2014, 01:39 PM
Post: #1
I've Been to the Mountaintop-Martin Luther King

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Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
delivered 3 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and 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 to 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
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 of 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 aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would
watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninetyfive
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 are 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.
I can remember I
can remember when 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 We
are saying that we are God's children. And that
we are God's children, 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 slaves 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
I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that
one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are 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 how 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 around."
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 denominations, we had been immersed. 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.

Page 4
And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take 'em 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 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 in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go
out 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 some of these illegal injunctions. 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 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 dogs or
water hoses turn us around, 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 to me 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 have a kind of
fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher
must be an Amos, and saith, "When God speaks who can but prophesy?" Again with Amos,
"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," and he's 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?
he's been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he's still going on, fighting
for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles? I could just go right on down
the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them. 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 preacher must talk about the new
New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis,
Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Page 5
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
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
American 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 CocaCola
in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy
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 town downtown
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 TriState
Bank. We want a
movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I'm not asking you
something that 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 are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there.
You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your
insurance there. We want to have an "insurancein."
Now these are some practical things that 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. If it means leaving
work, if it means leaving school be

Page 6
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 of life. At points he wanted to trick
Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and 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 midair,
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 he got down with him, administered 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 a church meeting, 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 twentyfour
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 effect.
But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that those men were
afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. 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 the setting for his
parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out
in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles or
rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the
time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 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 around. 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 seizure. 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 my job. 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.

Page 7
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 demented 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 Xrays
revealed that
the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured,
your drowned 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 VicePresident.
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 ninthgrade
student at the White Plains High School."
And 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 tonight that I too 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 sittingin
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 Constitution.
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

Page 8
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
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 on 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. 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 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!
And 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!!
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