One of the Greatest of All Time: MLK’s Mountaintop Speech

Martin Luther King's Mountaintop Speech
Photo Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

“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!”
Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968

April 3, 2018 is the 50-year anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Mountaintop speech.

For many, this speech is one of the greatest they’ve ever heard. For those who haven’t had the opportunity, it’s well worth the 45 minutes to listen to the full speech via the link above.

Dr. King first turned to injustice, namely the treatment of the 1,300 sanitation workers out on strike. Here’s more information about why the strike began.

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 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, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

His turn of phrase and ability to tell the story was second to none. Later in the speech, he wove injustice into a conversation about equal rights under the First Amendment.

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.

Dr. King went on to discuss the parable of the Good Samaritan, talking about his own experience on Jericho Road and bringing his wisdom to bear on how Memphis citizens could help, putting aside their own needs for those of the greater good.

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.

And then he seemed to predict his own demise:

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!

Our next post will be the last in our series about Martin Luther King, Jr., to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.