April 4, 2018

Unless you lived through the era, it's easy to think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a warm and fuzzy pacifist. After all, most of the observances today will focus on "I Have A Dream" speech and ignore "On Vietnam." It tells you exactly how sanitized his legacy has become that white right wingers now quote him as a "moral" rebuttal to black activism.

I guess they forgot the part where he not only called for the end to war, but for the redistribution of wealth.

I did not know just how haunted he was by his own fear of impending death, and his final speech, given in Memphis the night before to his assassination on behalf of striking sanitation workers, reflected that foreboding. From The Guardian:

Even among the ministers in the auditorium who knew King’s oratory well, the emotional charge of his words provoked shivers. “I’d never heard the intensity or the passion or the drama in his voice, in how he was delivering it, and he kept getting stronger and stronger,” Billy Kyles later said.

He would add that King seemed to be preparing for his death by purging publicly “the fear. He had to get rid of it. He had to let all that go.”

In his memoir, Abernathy wrote: “I had heard him hit high notes before, but never any higher.” Jesse Jackson would call his wife to tell her, “Martin had given the most brilliant speech of his life … he was lifted up and had some mysterious aura around him.”

Years later, Jackson noted: “What I thought was so different about that sermon, I saw men crying,” not something that happens usually in church. By the end, Kyles would say, “We were on our feet clapping and hollering.”

As often happened at the end of a compelling speech by King, the crowd surged toward him. Rather than allow a crowd to crush him, he usually exited quickly. “But that night he just didn’t want to leave,” Beifuss quoted a local minister as saying.

He was a moral giant -- a preacher, an activist, a socialist. Remember him, not just today but every day. And as so many of our generation did, I'll say it with song.

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