Dr. George B. Jackson: MLK Jr. at 90
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place.” MLK Jr., April 3, 1968
These are among the final words of the most prolific voice of the 20th Century. Thirteen years (1955-1968) and 2500 speeches boiled down to one last syllogism. He conceded his own human frailty in desiring perpetuity, saying to the congregation packed into Masons Temple in Memphis Tennessee, “Like anybody I would like to live a long life.” He echoed a sentiment that was seldom heard from public figures and faith leaders. It was a known fact that King had received hundreds of death threats and yet he was humble enough to divulge, “I would like to live a long life.” Wouldn’t we all…
Fifty years after his martyrdom, the devotees of MLK Jr. still wonder: what if he had avoided the assassin’s bullet while standing on the terrace of the Lorraine Motel? What if James Earl Ray had missed his target? Had King lived, could we have built the cherished “Beloved Community”?
Maybe a half million poor people would have converged on and occupied Washington D.C. in the summer of 1968 demanding a Poor Peoples’ Bill of Rights. I’ve often wondered about his impact on the presidential campaigns of Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy and even Richard Nixon. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War (articulated in a monumental sermon at Riverside Church in New York on April 3, 1967) would have gained popular support as the nation became weary of young bodies being shipped back to Andrew’s Air Force Base in flag draped coffins. There was even conversation about Dr. King running for president of the United States as a third party candidate in 1972. I can imagine MLK Jr. leading marches up and down the East coast of America demanding implementation of Swann vs Mecklenburg Board of Education in 1971.
There is so much speculation and conjecture when we imagine what our nation could have aspired to had King been allowed “longevity.” He was like Moses to a segment of America’s population that had been subjected to continuous denial and disenfranchisement. And like Moses he was allowed to ascend to the “Mountain Top” but denied access to the “Promised Land.” Realistically had he not been killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, it was just a matter of time. He was marked for death and there was no escape from his fate. It was not fair nor was it convenient, yet it was part of God’s master plan for our nation.
So what the enemy meant for evil against Dr. King, God used it for our good and this day saved many people alive.
Ninety years after the birth of the “Drum Major for Peace,” there is no speculation about his impact on America. No doubt about his love for God, country and people. There is no question that his works and his words still resonate in our ears: “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 shall get to the Promised Land!”
Dr. George B. Jackson is the MLK-SAC chairman