Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech almost didn’t happen

Black History Month 2021: ‘I may not get there with you’

In this series, the AJC takes a look back at the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement through its historical coverage. It’s a story that can never be forgotten, especially by those who lived it.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech almost didn’t happen.

The civil rights leader had been running a fever, and he thought a severe storm in Memphis, Tenn., would keep people from coming to the Mason Temple to hear him.

ExploreBlack History Month 2021: Learn about the civil rights movement and more in Atlanta

So he planned to stay at the Lorraine Hotel and work on the Poor People’s Campaign, which was a priority.

But King went to the Temple, and on April 3, 1968, delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, which those close to him saw as a premonition of what was in store.

When he arrived in Memphis, King was told of threats being circulated against him. He said it didn’t matter.

"... But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.”

King told listeners they could achieve social change without violence. “We don’t have to argue with anybody,” King said. “We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails.”

He continued: “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.”

The next day, King was assassinated, shot as stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel while leaving for dinner.

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