In last speech, Martin Luther King Jr. 'not concerned' about early death
Martin Luther King Jr. walks in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968. King would make his famous ''Mountaintop'' speech at Mason Temple the evening of April 3. The next day, at 6:01 p.m., King was shot and fatally wounded as he stood on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine. At the time, he was on his third trip to Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers. c51/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Now known as "I've Been to the Mountaintop,” the sermon was called King's "most apocalyptic" by King scholar James Washington. It was not the first time King had spoken publicly about his possible early death, though those close to him say King certainly did not expect the April 3 sermon to be his last.
"He always knew some speech would be his last," wrote Andrew Young, who was with King in Memphis. "Was he afraid? Not on your life!"
King had received death threats for years and had already survived one assassination attempt. In 1958, a black woman who apparently suffered from mental illness stabbed him at a book signing, nearly killing him. In its report on the incident, The New York Times wrote, momentously, that the wound was so severe that King would have died had he sneezed.
In his last sermon, King reflected on that experience, recalling that a ninth-grade girl wrote him afterward to say she was glad he hadn’t sneezed. King used that experience to reflect on his career and the civil rights movement.
After the sermon, King took His seat. His friend Benjamin Hooks recalled that King's words had elicited surprising emotions in both listeners and speaker.