By Yehudit Garmaise
“Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., just one day before he was tragically shot and killed by James Earl Ray.
At the time of his assassination, Dr. King, whose birthday is today, was leading the powerful civil rights movement that he started on Dec. 1, 1955, just after Mrs. Rosa Parks was arrested after she refused to move to the back of the bus, where African-Americans were expected to sit, in Montgomery, Alabama, where she worked in a department store as a seamstress.
I knew someone had to take the first step, and I made up my mind not to move,” Parks later said of her simple, “No,” that protected her dignity and ignited the American Civil Rights Movement, when Dr. King, who was then a 26-year-old pastor, led what was the first large-scale boycott against black and white segregation: the US the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for more than a year: from Dec. 5, 1955, to Dec. 20, 1956.
The bus boycott was so powerful because so many African-Americans walked miles to get to work that year, instead of riding the buses that insisted that they give up their seats to riders who were white.
As a result of the bus boycott, The US Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to integrate its bus system, and Dr. King emerged as a prominent leader of the American civil rights movement.
In August 1963, when Dr. King was 34, he planned the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where in front of 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, he gave his famous, stirring, and beautiful, “I Have a Dream Speech,” which still inspires countless listeners and readers to continue to fight for racial harmony and justice.
After recalling a near-death experience being stabbed by a crazed fan as he signed a book that he had written, Dr. King famously and tragically said, just one day before he was killed, “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,” which to Dr. King was a land of equal opportunities for success, safety, and health for all races and religions.
This morning, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Gov. Kathy Hochul paid tribute to Dr. King, who “wrote some of history's most powerful, poignant letters to leaders around the world to fight for a cause he believed into his core: that every man, woman, and child is entitled to dignity and to equal rights,” she said.
Gov. Hochul reminded New Yorkers, then when one of Dr. King’s most powerful messages was not just about racial justice, but was a reminder for each us, she said, “that every single one of us must ask ourselves daily, which is, ‘What are we doing for others?’”
“So, when we look at that mountain top in the distance, the one that Dr. King spoke of, but never got there himself, I'm saying, my friends, let's pack up.
“Let's put on our hiking boots, get your backpacks ready, because we're going to that mountain top together and we'll leave this place, the place that Dr. King envisioned in 1968 when he called on us to think about the possibilities.
“Let's head to the mountain top together.”