I've Been to the Mountaintop

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"I've Been to the Mountaintop"
Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS.jpg
Famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Quick facts
DateApril 3, 1968
LocationMemphis, TN, USA
TopicsHuman rights; civil rights; non-violent protest
Known for being King's last speech before he was murdered

I've Been to the Mountaintop is the name of the last speech Martin Luther King, Jr. gave before he died.[1][2]

King gave the speech on April 3, 1968. He was in Memphis, Tennessee for the Memphis Sanitation Strike. The sanitation (garbage) workers in Memphis were on strike because they got paid very little, and their work was dangerous.[3] King wanted to support them.

The speech talks mostly about the Strike. King talks about the best ways to get the workers what they needed. At the end of the speech, he talks about the possibility that he might be killed.

The next day, King was murdered.

Parts of the speech[change | change source]

The Memphis Sanitation Strike[change | change source]

Non-violence[change | change source]

When talking about the Strike, King focuses on the importance of non-violence. At a protest on March 28, some protesters had become violent and started breaking windows.[3] King says:

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. [1]

King thought that if protesters or the people on strike were violent, other people would only pay attention to the violence. They would not pay attention to how badly the sanitation workers were treated.

Boycotting[change | change source]

King suggested boycotting things sold by white businesses as a nonviolent way of protesting and getting people's attention. He explains that one black person might be poor, but all together, they spent a lot of money. This gave them power. If they stopped buying things from businesses owned by white people, then those businesses would lose a lot of money. Then they would have to pay attention, or else they could go out of business. Meanwhile, black people could use their money to buy things from businesses owned by other blacks.[1][2] King says:

Go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy ... Wonder Bread [or] Hart's bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of [spread out] the pain. [1]

The Civil Rights Movement[change | change source]

King then talks about the Civil Rights Movement. He says:

All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." [S]omewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press.[a] 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 [anything] turn us around. We are going on. [1]

King promises that civil rights activists will not stop until they get their basic human rights.

Possible death[change | change source]

At the end of the speech, King says that as soon as he got to Memphis, he began to get threats. However, he says he is not afraid of death. This is the most famous part of the speech, and also its ending:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. ... Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life... 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! [b][1]

The Bible in the speech[change | change source]

King was a Baptist pastor.[2] He often mentioned stories from the Bible in his speeches.

In the end of this speech, King is talking about a story from the Old Testament. Moses was the leader of the Israelites (the people of Israel). The Israelites followed Moses because they thought he would lead them to a Promised Land. In this Promised Land, they could live in peace.

However, before the Israelites got to the Promised Land, God spoke to Moses. God said he would let Moses see the Promised Land with his eyes. However, God would not let Moses enter the Promised Land. The Bible says:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo ... There the Lord showed him the whole land ... Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... I will let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it. [4]

Soon after this, Moses died. Joshua replaced him as leader, and led the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

King is saying that like Moses, he has "been to the mountaintop" and seen the Promised Land – a society where black people have peace and equal rights. He knows that he may not get to this Promised Land with them, because he might die first.[2] However, he tells his listeners that, like the people of Israel, African-Americans as a people will get to the Promised Land.[1]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. These are all rights that the United States Constitution gives to all Americans.
  2. The last line of this speech is also the first line of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 3, 1968). I've Been to the Mountaintop (Speech). Memphis, Tennessee. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). "I've Been to the Mountaintop," Memphis, Tennessee - April 3, 1968. Say It Plain. A Century of Great African American Speeches. American RadioWorks. Accessed March 7, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 AFSCME Local 1733 (November 1, 2015). "Timeline of Events Surrounding the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike". American Social History Project. The Graduate Center, City University of New Work.
  4. Deuteronomy 34:1-4

Other websites[change | change source]