Thank God For Dr. Martin Luther King, The Struggle Continues
On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wednesday, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., returned to the “site of the crucifixion” and told thousands of people gathered at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel here that the martyred freedom fighter lives on in a new generation of activists.
In a speech filled with pain and pride, defiance and hope, Rev. Jackson said Dr. King’s physical body may be gone, but his spirit continues to live and inspire seekers of justice and peace around the world.
“When you celebrate Barack [Obama] winning the [presidential] campaign in 2008 and 2012,” Rev. Jackson said, “he’s alive.
“When those children marched last week, saying ban assault weapons, he’s alive.
“When we marched and walked and freed [Nelson] Mandela, he’s alive.
“Friends, let nothing break your spirit. He was lied on, spat upon, turned on, violated, yet somehow, someway, he would not give up.”
Rev. Jackson, one of the last living eyewitnesses to the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, made his remarks as he stood in front of room 306, inches from where the Nobel Peace Prize laureate fell mortally wounded on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
“My brothers and sisters,” Rev. Jackson said. “It’s a bit difficult, standing here again today. I’ve been blessed by God to come back here 50 years later. Every time, the scab comes off, the sore is still raw. This is the site of the crucifixion, but not far from the crucifixion is the resurrection.”
Rev. Jackson said, “The same man that they called communist, now is exalted. No American president has the stature of Martin Luther King” around the world.
Rev. Jackson’s speech was part of an hours-long “Day of Remembrance,” one of the last of a nearly week-long series of church services, symposiums and other events commemorating Dr. King’s life and legacy.
The last two years of that magnificent life, Rev. Jackson reminded the elected officials, celebrities, clergy and ordinary citizens filling Mulberry Street and beyond, was devoted to ending the war in Vietnam and wiping out poverty at home. Fighting for “the working poor,” Rev. Jackson said, “was his agenda then, that is his agenda today.”
Rev. Jackson pointed out, 54 percent of African Americans earn less than $15 an hour. In a Memphis, a city that is 63 percent African American, about 32 percent of the city lives in poverty.
The struggle continues.
Former President Barack Obama delivered a video tribute to Dr. King, which was broadcast on a huge screen set up in what used to be the parking lot of the motel. Rev. Jackson recounted that he was standing in the lot, talking to Dr. King moments before the shot rang out, knocking Dr. King against the wall just outside of room 306.
“I’m convinced he never felt the pain,” Rev. Jackson said.
He said that Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King’s best friend, rushed out of the room and knelt next to Dr. King. “Martin, Martin,” Rev. Abernathy said. “You can’t leave us now. We need you.”
Freedom movement veterans and legends, including Rev. James Lawson, labor leader Bill Lucy, activist priest, Father Michael Pfleger and Rev. William Barber, who has resurrected Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign for the 21st Century, also spoke from the balcony. “You can buy unleaded gas in Flint, Michigan,” Rev. Barber said. “But you can’t get unleaded water.”
Earlier during the “Day of Remembrance,” Rev. Al Sharpton locked arms with Martin Luther King III and led thousands of men, women and children, singing civil rights songs, on a march, honoring Dr. King and the fight for racial, social and economic justice.
In a powerful tweet the day before, Rev. Sharpton reflected on Dr. King’s enduring impact and legacy. “He had a vision that was way before his time & it shaped the times we’re living in. We’re nowhere we need to be. Less than a week ago, I gave a eulogy for an unarmed black man shot [by police] in Sacramento.”
Dr. King was a visionary coalition builder. That gift was on full display Wednesday. Other speakers at the commemoration included Buddhists, Baptists, Catholics, Jews and a professor from Duke University, a self-described “Muslim child of Martin.” The sprawling crowd was black and white, Latino and Asian, young and old. There were gospel choirs and hip-hop stars. There was poetry and dancers and soul legend Al Green, who performed an up-tempo version of the song Dr. King requested moments before the assassination, “Precious Lord.”
“From this balcony,” Rev. Jackson told the crowd, “we decided we would not let one bullet kill a movement. In forty years, we went from the balcony at the Lorraine to the balcony overlooking the White House.
“We never stopped fighting. We never stopped building coalitions. We never gave up. We never gave out.”
At 6:01 P.M. – the time Dr. King was shot 50 years ago – a bronze church bell began to toll 39 times, once for every one of Dr. King’s 39 years.
“He did not die in vain,” Rev. Jackson said. “When we vote, we make Heaven happy. Thank God for Martin Luther King. Thank God for the martyrs who paid the price.”