Remembering King’s ‘Mountaintop’ speech

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Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior delivered his final speech.  

Referred to as the “Mountaintop Speech”, it was delivered in Downtown Memphis the day before he was assassinated.  

While it dealt mainly with the Memphis sanitation strike, he touched on other issues such as non-violent protests and unity.  

He ended that famous speech by talking about how he might die before the mission was complete. 

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness,” Dr. King said from the pulpit at Mason Temple.

“He was our leader.  He gave us strength.  He gave us motivation.  He was an example.  And, he preached brotherhood and peace,” said Tennessee State Representative Johnnie Turner. And she remembers that night like it was yesterday.

“I have never before that time and since that time seen something like that,” said Turner.  “I mean lightning, thunder.  It was just indescribable.  It was sort of like an omen.”

But, Turner was determined to hear the Baptist minister that stormy night on April 3, 1968. 

“It was just a feeling that you were in the presence of Dr. King and participating in a cause that was right and just,” said Turner. “My husband and I had attended every speech he gave, every one of them.”

And when Turner and her husband pulled up to 930 Mason Street in Downtown Memphis, she says it was unforgettable.

“We got to Mason Temple. I mean the place was packed. We had to sit up in the balcony,” said Turner. 

“Like anybody I would like to live a long life,” said Dr. King that night.

“He mounted that pulpit and boy what a sermon he gave,” said Turner.

“Up until now only the garbage men have been feeling pain,” Dr. King told the crowd at Mason Temple.

It was just something about his presence.  It was something about his ability to articulate the thoughts that all of us had and didn’t have the words to explain it. It was his motivation to those of us that each of us had a role to play in helping those sanitation workers get living wages,” said Turner.

“Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights,” said Dr. King on April 3, 1968.

Glosten Anderson, a worker at the Memphis Kellogg’s plant, was there at Mason Temple too.

“It was maybe three or 400 people – all you could get in the church. It was packed,” said King Supporter Glosten Anderson.

Anderson says King’s words electrified the room.

“They shouted and shouted and hugged him, and he walked off the stage,” said Glosten.

 “When he got through, it wasn’t a dry eye in that place.  It was no one sitting. We gave an ovation that was unreal,” said Turner.  “We were fixated.  When Dr. King preached you hung onto every word. It was like magnetism. We just knew that he preached his heart out.”

And 5 decades later Turner still remembers.  She remembers his sermon of brotherhood and of peace.  But, she says the dream has not yet been achieved 50 years later.

“Dr. King’s dream is still to be realized,” said Turner.  “He’s been deceased for 50 years.  It’s about time to wake up from the nightmare and make his dream a reality.”

“But, I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promise land,” said Dr. King in 1968.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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