"I've Been to the Mountaintop"

Dr. Martian Luther King Jr.
3 April 1968
Memphis, Tenn.

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to
Ralph Abernathy in his eloquent and generous
introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered
who he was talking about. [Laughter] It's always good
to have your closest friend and associate to say
something good about you, and Ralph Abernathy is the
best friend that I have in the world.

I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite
of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined
[Audience:] (Right) to go on anyhow. (Yeah. All right)
Something is happening in Memphis, something is
happening in our world. And you know, if I were
standing at the beginning of time with the possibility
of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the
whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty
said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you
like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by
Egypt, (Yeah) and I would watch God's children in
their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt
through, or rather, across the Red Sea, through the
wilderness, on toward the promised land. And in spite
of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there. (All

I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount
Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates,
Euripides, and Aristophenes assembled around the
Parthenon, [Applause] and I would watch them around
the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal
issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there. (Oh

I would go on even to the great heyday of the Roman
Empire, (Yes) and I would see developments around
there, through various emperors and leaders. But I
wouldn't stop there. (Keep on)

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance and
get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did
for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I
wouldn't stop there. (Yeah)

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm
named had his habitat, and I would watch Martin Luther
as he tacks his ninety-five theses on the door at the
church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there. (All

I would come on up even to 1863 and watch a
vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln
finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the
Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there.
(Yeah) [Applause]

I would even come up to the early thirties and see a
man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of
his nation, and come with an eloquent cry that "we
have nothing to fear but fear itself." But I wouldn't
stop there. (All right)

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty and
say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the
second half of the twentieth century, I will be
happy." [Applause]

Now that's a strange statement to make because the
world is all messed up. The nation is sick, trouble is
in the land, confusion all around. That's a strange
statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is
dark enough can you see the stars. (All right. Yes)
And I see God working in this period of the twentieth
century in a way that men in some strange way are
responding. Something is happening in our world.
(Yeah) The masses of people are rising up. And
wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in
Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra,
Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson,
Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always
the same: "We want to be free." [Applause]

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this
period is that we have been forced to a point where we
are going to have to grapple with the problems that
men have been trying to grapple with through history,
but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival
demands that we grapple with them. (Yes) Men for years
now have been talking about war and peace. But now, no
longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a
choice between violence and nonviolence in this world;
it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are
today. [Applause]

And also, in the human rights revolution, if something
isn't done and done in a hurry to bring the colored
peoples of the world out of their long years of
poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the
whole world is doomed. (All right) [Applause] Now, I'm
just happy that God has allowed me to live in this
period, to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that
he's allowed me to be in Memphis. (Oh yeah)

I can remember, [Applause] I can remember when Negroes
were just going around, as Ralph has said so often,
scratching where they didn't itch and laughing when
they were not tickled. [Laughter. Applause] But that
day is all over. (Yeah) [Applause] We mean business
now and we are determined to gain our rightful place
in God's world. (Yeah) [Applause] And that's all this
whole thing is about. We aren't engaged in any
negative protest and in any negative arguments with
anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be
men. We are determined to be people. (Yeah) We are
saying, [Applause] we are saying that we are God's
children. (Yeah) [Applause] And if we are God's
children, we don't have to live like we are forced to

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period
of history? It means that we've got to stay together.
(Yeah) We've got to stay together and maintain unity.
You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the
period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite formula
for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves
fighting among themselves. [Applause] But whenever the
slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's
court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When
the slaves get together, that's the beginning of
getting out of slavery. [Applause] Now let us maintain

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are.
(Right) The issue is injustice. The issue is the
refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its
dealings with its public servants, who happen to be
sanitation workers. [Applause] Now, we've got to keep
attention on that. (That's right) That's always the
problem with a little violence. You know what happened
the other day, and the press dealt only with the
window breaking. (That's right) I read the articles.
They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact
that one thousand three hundred sanitation workers are
on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them,
and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They
didn't get around to that. (Yeah) [Applause]

Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march
again (Yeah), in order to put the issue where it is
supposed to be (Yeah) [Applause] and force everybody
to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's
children here suffering, (That's right) sometimes
going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights
wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's
the issue. (That's right) And we've got to say to the
nation, we know how it's coming out. For when people
get caught up with that which is right and they are
willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping
point short of victory. [Applause]

We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are
masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police
forces; they don't know what to do. I've seen them so
often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were
in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of
the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church day after day. By
the hundreds we would move out, and Bull Connor would
tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come.
But we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna
let nobody turn me around." [Applause] Bull Connor
next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." (Yeah) And
as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't
know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow
didn't relate to the trans-physics that we knew about.
And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of
fire that no water could put out. [Applause] And we
went before the fire hoses. (Yeah) We had known water.
(All right) If we were Baptist or some other
denominations, we had been immersed. If we were
Methodist and some others, we had been sprinkled. But
we knew water. That couldn't stop us. [Applause]

And we just went on before the dogs and we would look
at them, and we'd go on before the water hoses and we
would look at it. And we'd just go on singing, "Over
my head, I see freedom in the air." (Yeah) [Applause]
And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and
sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a
can. (All right) And they would throw us in, and old
Bull would say, "Take 'em off." And they did, and we
would just go on in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall
Overcome." (Yeah) And every now and then we'd get in
jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the
windows being moved by our prayers (Yeah) and being
moved by our words and our songs. (Yeah) And there was
a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to,
(All right) and so we ended up transforming Bull into
a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

Now we've got to go on in Memphis just like that. I
call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.
(Yes) Now about injunctions. We have an injunction and
we're going into court tomorrow morning (Go ahead) to
fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All
we say to America is be true to what you said on
paper. (Oh yes) [Applause] If I lived in China or even
Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could
understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I
could understand the denial of certain basic First
Amendment privileges, because they haven't committed
themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of
the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read (Yes) of the
freedom of speech. (Yes) Somewhere I read (Yes) of the
freedom of press. (Yes) Somewhere I read (Yes) that
the greatness of America is the right to protest for
rights. [Applause] And so just as I say we aren't
going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around,
we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around.
[Applause] We are going on. We need all of you.

You know what's beautiful to me is to see all of these
ministers of the Gospel. (Amen) It's a marvelous
picture. (Yes) Who is it that is supposed to
articulate the longings and aspirations of the people
more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have
a kind of fire shut up in his bones, (Yes) and
whenever injustice is around he must tell it. (Yeah)
Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, who said, "When
God speaks, who can but prophesy?" (Yes) Again with
Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and
righteousness like a mighty stream." (Yes) Somehow the
preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord
is upon me, (Yes) because he hath anointed me, (Yes)
and he has anointed me to deal with the problems of
the poor." (Go ahead)

And I want to commend the preachers, under the
leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who
has been in this struggle for many years. He's been to
jail for struggling; he's been kicked out of
Vanderbilt University for this struggling; but he's
still going on, fighting for the rights of his people.
[Applause] Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I
could just go right down the list, but time will not
permit. But I want to thank all of them, and I want
you to thank them, because so often preachers aren't
concerned about anything but themselves. [Applause]

And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry. It's
all right to talk about long white robes over yonder,
in all of its symbolism, but ultimately people want
some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here.
[Applause] It's all right to talk about streets
flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us
to be concerned about the slums down here and his
children who can't eat three square meals a day.
[Applause] It's all right to talk about the new
Jerusalem, but one day God's preacher must talk about
the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new
Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis,
Tennessee. (Yes) [Applause] This is what we have to

Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: always
anchor our external direct action with the power of
economic withdrawal. Now we are poor people
individually, we are poor when you compare us with
white society in America. We are poor. But never stop
and forget that collectively, that means all of us
together, collectively we are richer than all the
nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did
you ever think about that? After you leave the United
States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany,
France, and I could name the others, the American
Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the
world. We have an annual income of more than thirty
billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the
exports of the United States and more than the
national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That's
power right here, if we know how to pool it. (Yeah)

We don't have to argue with anybody. 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. (Yes) We just need to go around to
these stores, (Yes, sir) and to these massive
industries in our country (Amen), and say, "God sent
us by here (All right) to say to you that you're not
treating his children right. (That's right) And we've
come by here to ask you to make the first item on your
agenda fair treatment where God's children are
concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we
do have an agenda that we must follow. (All right) And
our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from
you." [Applause]

And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight
(Amen) to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy
Coca-Cola in Memphis. (Yeah) [Applause] Go by and tell
them not to buy Sealtest milk. (Yeah) [Applause] Tell
them not to buy-what is the other bread?-Wonder Bread.
(Yes) [Applause] And what is the other bread company,
Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart's bread. [Applause]
As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now only the garbage
men have been feeling pain, now we must kind of
redistribute the pain. [Applause] We are choosing
these companies because they haven't been fair in
their hiring policies, and we are choosing them
because they can begin the process of saying they are
going to support the needs and the rights of these men
who are on strike. And then they can move on downtown
and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right. (That's
right. Speak) [Applause]

Now not only that, we've got to strengthen black
institutions. (That's right. Yeah) I call upon you to
take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit
your money in Tri-State Bank. (Yeah) [Applause] We
want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. (Yes) Go by the
savings and loan association. I'm not asking you
something that we don't do ourselves in SCLC. Judge
Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account
here in the savings and loan association from the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are
telling you to follow what we're doing, put your money
there. [Applause] You have six or seven black
insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take
out your insurance there. We want to have an
"insurance-in." [Applause] Now these are some
practical things that we can do. We begin the process
of building a greater economic base. And at the same
time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts,
(There you go) and I ask you to follow through here.

Now let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've
got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.
(Amen) Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at
this point in Memphis. We've got to see it through.
[Applause] When we have our march, you need to be
there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving
school, be there. (Amen) [Applause] Be concerned about
your brother. You may not be on strike, (Yeah) but
either we go up together or we go down together.
[Applause] Let us develop a kind of dangerous

One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise
some questions about some vital matters of life. At
points he wanted to trick Jesus, (That's right) and
show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew
and throw him off base. [Recording interrupted] Now
that question could have easily ended up in a
philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus
immediately pulled that question from mid-air and
placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and
Jericho. (Yeah) And he talked about a certain man who
fell among thieves. (Sure) You remember that a Levite
(Sure) and a priest passed by on the other side; they
didn't stop to help him. Finally, a man of another
race came by. (Yes, sir) He got down from his beast,
decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got
down with him, administered first aid, and helped the
man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good
man, this was the great man, because he had the
capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be
concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to
try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't
stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church
meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to
get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for
their meeting. (Yeah) At other times we would
speculate that there was a religious law that one who
was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch
a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.
(All right) And every now and then we begin to wonder
whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem,
or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road
Improvement Association. [Laughter] That's a
possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to
deal with the problem from the causal root, rather
than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells
me. It's possible that those men were afraid. You see,
the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. (That's right) I
remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem.
We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to
Jericho. (Yeah) And as soon as we got on that road I
said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the
setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering
road. (Yes) It's really conducive for ambushing. You
start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or
rather, 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you
get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later,
you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a
dangerous road. (Yeah) In the days of Jesus it came to
be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's
possible that the priest and the Levite looked over
that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers
were still around. (Go ahead) Or it's possible that
they felt that the man on the ground was merely
faking. (Yeah) And he was acting like he had been
robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there,
lure them there for quick and easy seizure. (Oh yeah)
And so the first question that the priest asked, the
first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop
to help this man, what will happen to me?" (All right)

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed
the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what
will happen to him?" (Yeah) That's the question before
you tonight. (Yes) Not, "If I stop to help the
sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?" Not,
"If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will
happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my
office every day and every week as a pastor?" (Yes)
The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in
need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I
do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will
happen to them?" That's the question. [Applause]

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let
us stand with a greater determination. And let us move
on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to
make America what it ought to be. We have an
opportunity to make America a better nation. (Amen)

And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to
be here with you. (Yes, sir) You know, several years
ago I was in New York City autographing the first book
that I had written. And while sitting there
autographing books, a demented black woman came up.
The only question I heard from her was, "Are you
Martin Luther King?" And I was looking down writing
and I said, "Yes."

The next minute I felt something beating on my chest.
Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented
woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark
Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through,
and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was
on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once
that's punctured you're drowned in your own blood;
that's the end of you. (Yes, sir) It came out in The
New York Times the next morning that if I had merely
sneezed, I would have died.

Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after
the operation, after my chest had been opened and the
blade had been taken out, to move around in the
wheelchair in the hospital. They allowed me to read
some of the mail that came in, and from all over the
states and the world kind letters came in. I read a
few, but one of them I will never forget. I had
received one from the president and the
vice-president; I've forgotten what those telegrams
said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the
governor of New York, but I've forgotten what that
letter said. (Yes)

But there was another letter (All right) that came
from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at
the White Plains High School. And I looked at the
letter and I'll never forget it. It said simply, "Dear
Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White
Plains High School." She said, "While it should not
matter, I would like to mention that I'm a white girl.
I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your
suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you
would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say
that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze." (Yes)

And I want to say tonight, [Applause] I want to say
tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn't sneeze.
Because if I had sneezed (All right), I wouldn't have
been around here in 1960, (Well) when students all
over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters.
And I knew that as they are sitting in, they were
really standing up (Yes, sir) for the best in the
American dream and taking the whole nation back to
those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by
the founding fathers in the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, (Yes) I wouldn't have been around
here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for
freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.
(All right)

If I had sneezed, (Yes) I wouldn't have been around
here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided
to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and
women straighten their backs up, they are going
somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless
it is bent.

If I had sneezed, [Applause] if I had sneezed, I
wouldn't have been here in 1963, (All right) when the
black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the
conscience of this nation and brought into being the
civil rights bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later
that year, in August, to try to tell America about a
dream that I had had. (Yes)

If I had sneezed, [Applause] I wouldn't have been down
in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to
see a community rally around those brothers and
sisters who are suffering. (Yes) I'm so happy that I
didn't sneeze. (Yes)

And they were telling me. [Applause] Now it doesn't
matter now (Go ahead). It really doesn't matter what
happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we
got started on the plane-there were six of us-the
pilot said over the public address system, "We are
sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther
King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags
were checked and to be sure that nothing would be
wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything
carefully. And we've had the plane protected and
guarded all night."

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the
threats, or talk about the threats that were out,
(Yeah) or what would happen to me from some of our
sick white brothers.

Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got
some difficult days ahead. (Amen) But it really
doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the
mountaintop. (Yeah) [Applause] And I don't mind.
[Applause continues] 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. (Yeah) And He's allowed me to go up to the
mountain. (Go ahead) And I've looked over, (Yes, sir)
and I've seen the promised land. (Go ahead) I may not
get there with you. (Go ahead) But I want you to know
tonight (Yes), that we, as a people, will get to the
promised land. [Applause] (Go ahead) 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. [Applause]

Other bits of History

Newsletters | Social & Political IssuesHome | Hot links | poetry pages I Web-Rings I Bookspot

Here is another place to check out more positive people