April 4 is a date that will be remembered eternally. It is the day in 1968 when the world’s most renowned civil and human rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was shot and killed on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 36 years old.
His life is remembered each year on the hard fought for national holiday celebrating his birth on January 15, 1929. A young Baptist preacher, husband and father of four, born in Atlanta, who was swept up into a national movement to end discrimination, King dedicated his life to the fight for freedom, equality and justice for all.
Dr. King is most remembered for his nonviolent protest strategy and for his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered at the historic 1963 March on Washington. King said on that hot summer day in August, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality — 1963 is not an end but a beginning.”
Later in his speech, King told the crowds who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which he compared to the “worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice,” that “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high lane of dignity and discipline.”
King’s following was strong, but adherence to his instructions was weak. Just hours after King’s violent death, violence erupted, and cities went up in flames. Years of neglect in those neighborhoods where freedom seekers lived are now gentrified, and abuse by police against Blacks is juxtaposed to untenable Black on Black violence, as well.
We not only remember Dr. King on Jan. 15 and April 4, but his words and the life he gave should guide our thoughts and actions every day, all year long. Imagine what he would tell us if he had not been taken on April 4, and he was still with us today at 80 years old.