50 years ago, April 4, 1968, 39-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, by a racist sociopath from Alton, Illinois, named James Earl Ray.
The night before his death, King preached at the Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. Having been warned of threats against him, he prophetically declared:
“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. 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.”
Dr. Gary S. Smith, emeritus chairman of Grove City College’s history department, observed that King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon “ranks with John Winthrop’s ‘A Model of Christian Charity’ and Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ as among America’s most famous.”
King’s pastoral influence in that era was rivaled only by his friend Billy Graham.
That fateful day in 1968 was a Thursday, and King was killed around 6:00 in the evening. On Friday, Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, and three of her children, joined by faith leaders and thousands of citizens, marched in Memphis to support King’s work.