“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” – Remember MLK on his 90th birthday

Post date: January 20, 2019 by Craig Vercruysse

Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 90 years old on the 15th of January and on the 21st, we remember his life and legacy.

This year, I chose to read Dr. King’s speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”  It’s an eerily prescient and inspiring speech delivered the night before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39. 

As you read the words you can almost feel that this great person knew his time was drawing near while at the same time throwing his whole being into the struggle for equality with a sense of gratitude for the fight. He writes, “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.”

Can we not say the same today and with even greater force and appreciation for the increased complexity? The condition of 1968 compounds itself into an even greater challenge over 50 years later. The struggle for African Americans remains with inequity in both stark and subtle ways. The latest evidence surfaced as I traveled in a cab in the Washington DC area last week listening to NPR report that the disgraceful, month-long shutdown of our federal government and furlough of 800,000 government workers has a disproportionate share of burden borne by the African-American community.

And it shows in the other inequities that exist in our society be it along the lines of socioeconomics, gender, sexual orientation or education. Additionally, a new inequity is emerging in society around the technologically empowered as the age of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence is upon us. 

Despite the palpable and ominous feelings this may espouse, we turn to Dr. King’s words as beacons of morality and hope. He further instructs us today as he did in 1968, “Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together…Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

Dangerous unselfishness. I really like how that sounds. The intentionality behind putting others above self as a way of living is an act of being dangerous, but dangerous to what? Dangerous to the powers that divide us and those powers of division have compounded so we must double down on “dangerous unselfishness.”

And we must also remember that it is the pursuit of perfection – perfect equality – that we all should seek though we may never fully experience it as Dr. King admitted in this speech. Yet, it is a worthy endeavor for our lives to provide a small drop in a vast ocean of contributions to the continuous improvement of humankind. 

There is no better way to close this missive than through the words of Dr. King himself:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really 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!”