The newspaper is faded and yellowed with age, printed the year I was born. I carefully unfold it to read the dispatch at the top of the weathered front page:
“Bulletin: Memphis, Tenn., Associated Press – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and America’s leading exponent of nonviolence in the civil rights struggle, was shot to death Thursday night, assistant police chief Henry Lux said.”
King’s enemy killed the man but couldn’t end his dream.
Monday’s marking of King’s birth is a federal holiday, a day off for virtually everyone in our nation. But as we rest, let us truly consider the man’s influence on this country, lest we forget how powerful his life was and is.
He was born Michael King – named for his father – on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta. The pair became Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. after “Daddy” King, as he was known, decided following a trip to Germany to honor the church reformer. Just as the original Luther never intended to start a revolution against Catholicism, so the younger King never set out to become the conscience of his land. However, he matured into just that.
Martin Luther King Jr. caught fire from both sides: those who wanted him to stay silent about racial oppression and others who desired him to be more militant, even violent. Those extremes eventually faded into the recesses of fanaticism in the minds of most Americans, but the man in the middle’s impact endured.
“I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law,” King said. From the Freedom Rides penetrating the Deep South to working with leaders in Congress in passing civil rights laws, he joined hands and hearts with Caucasians as well as Latinos, Asians, Natives and anyone else who believed in equality for all.
For the Baptist preacher, equality meant a fair opportunity at voting, housing and jobs. That made him hated by those who profited by keeping down African-Americans and other people of color. An FBI memo after his 1963 March on Washington called him the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.”
I turn my attention to the graying stationery, now nearly 50 years old. I note the letterhead is simple and straightforward:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
332 Auburn Avenue, N.E.
The first paragraph on it tells of King’s plans for what became the Poor People’s Campaign: “A pilgrimage of the poor will gather in Washington from the slums and the rural starvation regions of the nation. We will go there, we will demand to be heard, and we will stay until America responds.”
The 39-year-old never made that journey, for James Earl Ray got to him first. Ray, a segregationist and small-time criminal, was caught overseas after shooting King and received life in prison in a plea agreement. While the assassin later insisted others were behind the murder, the conspiracy theories proved inconclusive.
Of course, in a sense, America killed King. Its most influential leaders decried him, most powerful law enforcement suspected him, and most privileged refused to fund him.
I stand in Mason Temple in Memphis, the site of King’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” I look out from the podium at a vast sea of seats, nearly 4,000 in all. The building on the grounds of the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, in which I am ordained, was the largest black-owned religious structure in the United States in the civil rights leader’s day.
“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last,” King told the crowd in concluding his address there.
I think of how it must have appeared that night, April 3, 1968: people clogging the aisles, a rostrum full of dignitaries, fists punching the air and handkerchiefs waiving.
Today it is silent and shadows fill the hall.
But an African-American president now has run our nation, and black, white and all other races of children go to school together in our land.
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28, “but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Martin Luther King Jr. did not fear those who could take his life on earth but lived in awe of the Lord and his matchless ways. Thank you, Dr. King, for your sacrifice; you have given me and the rest of your country a vision for not only this life, but also that to come.
About the author: The Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., has an earned doctorate and taught both journalism and religious studies in universities, winning three honors for scholarly research on the intersection of faith and media. He's won 25 awards for professional media writing and production in a career stretching back to the 1980s and covering every mass medium. For 20 years, he's worked in public relations and marketing with outstanding results in placing articles, generating click-throughs, growing social-platform accounts, and more. Ordained in 2003, he's an elder in the predominantly black Church of God in Christ and has served congregations and denominations in numerous positions of pastoral, administrative and educational leadership. See below on this page andclick here for more on Huckins.
MLK Jr. giving the last speech before his murder, appearing at the Church of God in Christ's Mason Temple in Memphis.
Media Helping People, Ministries Glorifying Christ
The Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., column author; click on the photo to learn more about him.
Welcome to my work! My latest book of columns, "Race, Faith and Politics Today," has just won honors for Best Non-Fiction Book from the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists and Best Book on Religion (Eastern/Western) in the national eLit Awards. I also presented the volume in session at last fall's Church of God in Christ Holy Convocation in St. Louis. See my COGIC news page.
My column, "Keeping Faith," also won an award this spring for best reporting from the Evangelical Press Association, the USA's largest group of born-again news outlets. This follows two honors for best newspaper series and one for best copy editing from the National Association of Black Journalists (along with a couple for best magazine single-topic series for my work in The Whole Truth, the official COGIC magazine).
Previously, the column took an honor for best use of the Bible in secular media from the longstanding and greatly respected Amy Foundation. The piece also has won awards for best standing column from the Evangelical Press Association, finishing alongside Christianity Today; religion reporting from the Religion News Association, the world's largest organization of journalists covering faith; and three straight yearly awards for general column writing given by the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists plus another for coverage of issues of concern to minorities.
"Race, Faith and Politics Today," the aforementioned book compiling my columns on spirituality now out from Berean Publishing, is distributed by Ingram and available through Shopify and PayPal (as well as from several major Web portals and select bookstores). The book has Bible study and college course teaching guides available.
My latest book is good for those interested in a born-again lens on civic issues, America's racial divide, our increasingly secular culture, and a host of other trends & issues involving faith. You'll also find in it thoughts on Christian living, a practical take on theology and even the way of salvation if you'd like to pass it along to people curious about Christianity. You have the chance to read excerpts from the book and a recent interview with me about it.
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I love to hear from readers, so feel free to keep in touch. I welcome you to stay up with my work, too, through this site and other venues.
The letter on the Poor People's Campaign by Martin Luther King Jr. written just before his killing and in the column author's collection.
The front page of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, April 4, 1968, the author mentions.
"Daddy" King (left), a popular Atlanta preacher, renamed himself and his son (right) for Reformation leader Martin Luther after the elder King visited Germany.