MEMPHIS, Tenn.—As the days of our lives mesh into a reel of memories that can become challenging to recall as the volume of them increases, some days standout and we know at the time that they always will. Such was the case for many who made their way to historic Mason Temple in Memphis to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech there.
The draw was an “I AM 2018” movement event dubbed the “Mountaintop Speech Commemoration,” fittingly held at the world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s now-prophetic last address.
“To me, this is holy ground,” said Father Clete Kylie of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. “I wanted to come here, touch it and be re-inspired.”
I AM 2018 is organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and COGIC. The “Mountaintop Speech Commemoration” was part of the push to transform Memphis into the birthplace of a new political movement and aggressive voter education and civic engagement program.
National and international celebrities—AFSCME President Lee Saunders, COGIC Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., Paul Chavez and Ambassador Andrew Young among them—dotted the scene at Mason Temple.
Dr. King’s children—Martin Luther King III and The Rev. Bernice King—moved about with palpable dignity and grace.
From Australia to Atlanta and myriad points between and beyond, 3,000-plus men, women and children packed the sanctuary to capacity 50 years ago on the night that Dr. King rose to the podium and—among other things—declared that, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And 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.”
Attendees patiently stood in line for well over two hours to gain entrance into the church. Many shared stories of what brought them to Mason Temple, with a common denominator being the reference to it as a place of reflection.
There was talk of calls to action. There was laughter. There were tears. There were expressions of hope. There was talk of unity. Phone numbers, emails and—more importantly—ideas were shared like currency. Ideas of what can be said and done to move Dr. King’s message of economic and social justice forward.
“A pathway has been made for me now,” said 17 year-old Nia Simone Gayles. “It makes me feel more grateful.”
Keara Fenzel made her way with family to Memphis from Denver, Colo. They made the trek grateful for the lessons they learned from Dr. King on how to organize in the Black community and how to lead on critical issues such as inequality. Issues that are important now more than ever, she said.
“I’m fortunate to be able to commemorate Dr. King and be around people who want to live in a better world for all us,” Fenzel said.
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