Death of a Prophet

April 3, 1968 – Memphis

In town to help striking Memphis garbage workers, an exhausted and downcast Dr. King is already in his pajamas when the call comes in from Reverend Abernathy at Mason Temple, informing him that two thousand people have braved tornado warnings and a driving rain to hear him speak. “I really think you should come down,” Abernathy pleads. “The people want to hear you, not me. This is your crowd.”

Dr. King gets dressed and goes out into the stormy night.

In the blaze of lights at the podium he appears nervous. He tells his audience that if he were at God’s side on the dawn of creation he would ask to see Moses liberating his people, Plato and Aristotle debating philosophy, Renaissance Europe, Luther tacking his 95 theses on the church door, Lincoln emancipating the slaves, and Roosevelt navigating his way to the New Deal. But he would not dally in any of these times or places, preferring to move on and experience just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, when masses around the world rose up to say: We want to be free. 

Dr. King, abandoned by militants, vilified by the press, stalked by death and the FBI, is deeply grateful to share in the freedom struggles that heap his life with hardship.

With the crowd shouting its approval, he bellows that he has been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land. Brushing aside prospects of premature death, he declares that longevity has its place, but that on this night he is not worried about any thing, not fearing any man.

A burning passion in his eyes, his voice rising to a shattering crescendo, he declares his last will and testament.

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” 

April 4, 1968

The bullet explodes into his face, severs his spine, and brings Dr. King crashing down, down, down, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

Reverend Abernathy bolts to his side, calling out to those in the parking lot below.

“Oh my God, Martin’s been shot!”

 Dr. King, a look of terror in his eyes, clutches uselessly at his throat. His head lies in an expanding pool of blood. Abernathy tries to comfort him.

“This is Ralph, this is Ralph, don’t be afraid.”

 Reverend King, still conscious, his magnificent voice silenced forever, cannot answer. His mouth quivers once and then Abernathy feels he is communicating through his eyes.

In King’s motel room, the Reverend Billy Kyle bangs his head against the wall again and again, screaming into the telephone for an operator.

Dashing up sobbing from the parking lot, Andrew Young gropes for a pulse.

He screams: “Oh, my God, my God. it’s all over.”

American cities begin to burn.

Excerpt From The Speech That Got Dr. King Killed: 

The peasants watched as we supported a ruthless dictatorship in South Vietnam which aligned itself with extortionist landlords and executed its political opponents. The peasants watched as we poisoned their water, bombed and machine-gunned their huts, annihilated their crops, and sent them wandering into the towns, where thousands of homeless children roamed the streets like animals, begging for food and selling their mothers and sisters to American soldiers. What do the peasants think as we test our latest weapons on them, as the Germans tested new medicines and tortures in Europe’s concentration camps?

 . . . we have destroyed their land and crushed their only non-Communist revolutionary political force – the Unified Buddhist Church. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators!

— Dr. Martin Luther King, New York City, April 4, 1967

Source for above material [1]:

[1] Michael K. Smith, Portraits of Empire, pps. 129, 132

Michael Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire." He co-blogs with Frank Scott at He co-blogs with Frank Scott at Read other articles by Michael.