In April of 1968, I had two toddlers, was a stay at home mom, and was living in small town Wisconsin. We were far away from the riots raging in Milwaukee in the sixties, but were well aware of them. The neighborhood where my husband grew up had turned into a war zone as our nation fought another kind of civil war.
In that year, a popular young minister was doing his best to bridge the chasm of race discrimination, but soon would fall victim to an assassin’s rage. In a speech delivered shortly before his death, he spoke of making it to the promised land.
This young man, was born in 1929 as Michael King, Jr. His father, while traveling in Germany five years later, became so inspired by the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, that he changed his name and that of his five year old son. Martin, Jr. was a brilliant child and skipped two grades in school, allowing him to enter college at the age of 15. He never intended to follow the family business and become a preacher, but that is exactly where God led him.
Unfortunately, during his lifetime, the burden of racial tension was still prominent even in the north. There were segregated areas for blacks to eat. They had to use separate rest rooms. They were not allowed to stay in white hotels and were sent to the back of the buses and deemed by some as second class citizens. This was supposed to be over and done with, but the stigma remained. It was a dark spot in our history and continues in some areas of the country even today.
On April 3rd of 1968, Dr. King spoke to a group of black garbage workers at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis. In his speech that night, he said,
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … 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. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was killed by an assassin. Did he know his death was so close? Was this a prophetic speech? I think Dr. King was confident in heaven. He knew that his life was in danger. He’d been arrested 30 times in his lifetime. His cause was not a popular one, yet he continued on in the face of peril.
Getting to the Promised Land happened much sooner than it should have for Martin. He was only 39 when he died, but the impact he made on America, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His name has gone down in history as a great reformer himself and like his namesake, he knew that heaven was his eternal home.
We still live in a world of prejudice and hatred. I’m afraid this will go on for all time, because the devil enjoys stirring people up and creating a stew of anger, rage and hatred. The only true peace will come when we reach the Promised Land, not by any of our own doing, but by the grace of a loving God.