Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
- Pride (In the Name of Love), U2
On April 03, 1968, I turned 8 years old. I don't really remember it, but I am certain my mother put together a birthday party for me, including a homemade cake. There were likely small presents for all of the guests - my mother didn't like anyone to leave empty handed. I was in the 2nd grade, and this would be the last birthday I would celebrate in the small WWII-era house in which we had lived since I had been born.
On that same exact day, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "mountain top" speech
. It would be the last speech he ever gave. In retrospect, it seems foreshadowing, as if he knew what was in his future:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter 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. And 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.
On April 4, 1968, as I went about my little life feeling a little more grown up, and enjoying my first full day as an 8 year old, Rev. King was assassinated in Memphis. James Earl Ray was eventually caught and confessed, but rumors of conspiracy
did (and likely always will) shadow the shocking death.
In spite of his early demise, his legacy will always be the change he helped bring to America, with the change in the direction of justice and equality (both in terms of rights and economics). It's truly been a paradigm shift from the 50s, one that appears slow from our individual perspective, but quite dramatic when viewed through the long lens of history.
On the 40th anniversary of his last speech, Raine and I were at the Atlanta Fulton County courthouse. It was my birthday, and I suggested we visit the marriage license dept. We did, and we signed the papers. The next day on the 40th anniversary of King's assassination, we stood before a Justice of the Peace and said our vows. Afterwards, we ventured down to the King Center and paid our respects.
Seven months later, the country elected its first black president. If Abraham Lincoln had been alive on that election night, he might have said "Two score and 7 months ago, our forefathers removed a great man - a man of peace - from our midst...". In that forty years, we grew as a nation and truly elected a man based on the content of his character, rather than the color of his skin. Without the hard work and sacrifice of Rev. King, I don't think that would have been possible.
So four years later now, I am 4 years older. We have been married exactly 4 years. It's been 44 years since King's assassination. President Obama is the 44th president, and in the 4th year of his presidency.
I am not trying to draw any connections here, nor enhance myself with comparisons to Dr. King, but I do feel
a connection based on the coincidences of my life. As I have grown and become a better person, so too has the country. At times we are reminded of the ugly past, but the fact that when it occurs it is shocking shows how far we have come, and is a reminder that we must remain ever vigilant and steadfast in the face of an opposition that wants to turn back the pages of progress, rather than finish the book.
Vigilance, my friends... and 4 more years.