50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final speech in Memphis, Tennessee.
Referred to as the “Mountaintop Speech,” it was delivered in downtown Memphis the day before he was assassinated.
While it dealt mainly with the Memphis sanitation strike, he touched on other issues, such as non-violent protests and unity.
He ended that famous speech by talking about how he might die before the mission was complete.
Tennessee State Rep. Johnnie Turner said “He was our leader. He gave us strength. He gave us motivation. He was an example. And, he preached brotherhood and peace.”
Turner remembers that night like it was yesterday.
“I have never before that time, and since that time, seen something like that…I mean lightning, thunder. It was just indescribable. It was sort of like an omen.”
Turner was determined to hear the Baptists minister that stormy night on April 3, 1968.
“It was just a feeling that you were in the presence of Dr. King and participating in a cause that was right and just…My husband and I had attended every speech he gave, every one of them.”
When Turner and her husband pulled up to 930 Mason St. in downtown Memphis, she says it was unforgettable.
“We got to Mason Temple. I mean, the place was packed. We had to sit up in the balcony.”
She says “”he mounted that pulpit and boy, what a sermon he gave.”
“It was just something about his presence. It was something about his ability to articulate the thoughts that all of us had and didn’t have the words to explain it. It was his motivation to those of us that each of us had a role to play in helping those sanitation workers get living wages.”
Glosten Anderson, a worker at the Memphis Kellogg’s plant, was there at Mason Temple too.
“It was maybe 3 or 400 people – all you could get in the church. It was packed,” Anderson said.
Anderson says King’s words electrified the room.
Anderson said “They shouted and shouted and hugged him, and he walked off the stage.”
Turner said “When he got through, it wasn’t a dry eye in that place. It was no one sitting. We gave an ovation that was unreal…We were fixated. When Dr. King preached you hung onto every word. It was like magnetism…We just knew that he preached his heart out.”
Five decades later, Turner remembers. She remembers his sermon of brotherhood and of peace. But, she says the dream has not yet been achieved, 50 years later.
“Dr. King’s dream is still to be realized,” Turner said. “He’s been deceased for 50 years. It’s about time to wake up from the nightmare and make his dream a reality.”
Dr. King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
In 1958, King was in Harlem, New York, signing copies of his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” when a woman plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest.
Coincidentally, Dr. King’s mother was also killed by a bullet. She was playing an organ in church when a man stood up and began firing, killing her.
As for his famous speeches, the mountaintop speech was his last.
King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
Six years before his iconic speech at the March on Washington, Dr. King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke during the prayer pilgrimage for freedom.
His speech then, where he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and put him at the forefront of civil rights leadership.