51 Years Later: King’s Words Still Encourage

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty Aprils have passed since that fateful day in Memphis.

April 4, 1968.

Assassinated while addressing crowds gathered outside his motel, Dr. Martin Luther King was only 39. His assassin, 40-year-old James Earl Ray, was a drifter who had spent 20 years in and out of prison. Using a Remington rifle, he killed King with a single shot before fleeing the scene.

As a Baptist minister, King had found a calling as an activist fighting for equality. For 14 years he led what became known as the Civil Rights movement.

The 1960s were a volatile time in America with the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, inspiring the 1968 song Abraham, Martin, and John. There were anti-Vietnam War protests, riots, and Civil Rights marches that were met with violence from KKK members.

When he died, King’s obituary was listed in the New York Times. In 2018 the Times had an entire section on his life: 50 Years Later, Remembering King, and the Battles That Outlived Him.

Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was one of the young activists with King in the 1960s known as Freedom Riders, was not with King the day he died. Lewis was, instead, in Indianapolis campaigning with Bobby Kennedy who was running for president. Two months later Kennedy would also be gone.

John Lewis marched in Selma with King. In 1963 he was the youngest speaker at King’s March on Washington. In 1986 he became Congressman Lewis where he continues to serve.

Jonathan Capehart wrote of Lewis in the Washington Post:

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) has led an annual civil rights pilgrimage to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., with the Faith and Politics Institute for 20 years. And every year but one since 1965, the icon told me, he has returned to the sites where he was arrested, brutally beaten and continually bore witness to death in the pursuit of equality under the law for African Americans. But when it came to Indianapolis, where Lewis was campaigning with Bobby Kennedy on April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, Lewis resisted returning. That will change on the 50th anniversary on Wednesday.

History and the passage of time have a way of putting the best light on the memories but those were difficult times.

The night before his death, King gave his “Mountaintop” speech that concluded:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to 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.”

Fifty-one years….