And on the eve of his death, Dr. King gave a sermon in Memphis about what the movement there meant to him and to America. And in tones that would prove eerily prophetic, Dr. King said that despite the threats he’d received, he didn’t fear any man, because he had been there when Birmingham aroused the conscience of this nation. And he’d been there to see the students stand up for freedom by sitting in at lunch counters. And he’d been there in Memphis when it was dark enough to see the stars, to see the community coming together around a common purpose. So Dr. King had been to the mountaintop. He had seen the Promised Land. And while he knew somewhere deep in his bones that he would not get there with us, he knew that we would get there.
He knew it because he had seen that Americans have “the capacity,” as he said that night, “to project the ‘I’ into the ‘thou.'” To recognize that no matter what the color of our skin, no matter what faith we practice, no matter how much money we have – no matter whether we are sanitation workers or United States Senators – we all have a stake in one another, we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper, and “either we go up together, or we go down together.”
And when he was killed the following day, it left a wound on the soul of our nation that has yet to fully heal. And in few places was the pain more pronounced than in Indianapolis, where Robert Kennedy happened to be campaigning. And it fell to him to inform a crowded park that Dr. King had been killed. And as the shock turned toward anger, Kennedy reminded them of Dr. King’s compassion, and his love. And on a night when cities across the nation were alight with violence, all was quiet in Indianapolis.
Dr. King’s last speech:
Bobby Kennedy announces the news of the assassination in Indianapolis: