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Martin Luther King Jr. - I've Been to the Mountaintop (Last Speech; Assassinated Next Day)

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Published on Jan 16, 2012

"I've Been to the Mountaintop" is the popular name of the last speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr.

King spoke on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) in Memphis, Tennessee. The next day, King was assassinated.

The speech primarily concerns the Memphis Sanitation Strike. King calls for unity, economic actions, boycotts, and nonviolent protest, and challenges the United States to live up to its ideals. At the end of the speech, he discusses the possibility of an untimely death.

Excerpts from King's speech:



Regarding the strike, King said:

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 window-breaking. 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... 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.


Regarding the Civil Rights struggle, King said:

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 rights. And so just as I said, 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.


Regarding economic boycotts, he said:

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...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.



Toward the end of the speech, King refers to threats against his life and uses language that seems to foreshadow his impending death:

And then I got to 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 doesn't really matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. 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'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

**The last sentence of King's speech is also the opening line of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.**

A hymn by American writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from the song "John Brown's Body". Howe's more famous lyrics were written in November 1861 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of time (Torah/New Testament) with the American Civil War.

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