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King lives on that mountaintop because our zeal for justice keeps him there

Wednesday - 04/04/2018 22:38
Kai Koerber and Tyah Roberts, both student leaders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, read Martin Luther King Jr.'s acceptance speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Matias J. Ocner Miami Herald

MEMPHIS 

The sun was low in the sky and the breeze had begun to carry a bit of malice. Chicago priest Michael Pfleger had just finished a thundering oration from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel about how the church ought to be “dangerous to evil, dangerous to injustice and be responsible to shatter the darkness with light and expose the lies with truth and display the weakness of hate when it is faced with the power of love itself.”

And the clock struck 6:01 and the bell began to ring. It rang 39 solemn tones, one for each year of a life cut short 50 years ago. people listened in absolute silence to the chimes. When the last one faded away, a sweet guitar began to frame one of the foundational melodies of the African-American church and the great Al Green appeared, singing a spirited “Precious Lord."

It could not be lost on anyone that this was the song Martin Luther King leaned over the balcony and requested musician Ben Branch to play at an upcoming mass meeting on that evil night half a century ago. “Sing it real pretty,” he had said. And then the shot rang out. Fifty years later, here was Al Green singing it pretty,singing it upbeat and happy. It was a fitting ending to a program that capped a week of remembrance.

The words, image and memory of King have been ubiquitous here this week, 50 years after he “got into Memphis” to lead a march on behalf of striking sanitation workers. April 3, 1968, was a stormy night here, and an exhausted King, nursing a fever, intended to spend it resting. But when his aide, Ralph Abernathy, called to tell him that the hall was packed and the people demanding to hear from him, King dressed and went out into the rain.


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