On April 3, 1968, in Memphis to support sanitation workers seeking better wages, Rev. Martin Luther King closed his speech with these words:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. 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.

“And so 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!”

The next day – April 4, 1968 – Rev. King was killed by an assassin’s bullet.

Today, April 4, St. Clement’s Episcopal Church commemorates Rev. King, Civil Rights Leader and Martyr.

As the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, Martin Luther King, Jr. was steeped in church tradition. In 1948, he was ordained a Baptist minister. A graduate of Morehouse College and Crozer Theological Seminary, Rev. King received his doctorate in theology from Boston University. In 1954, he became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. The next year, he catapulted into national prominence as the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Rev. King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to spearhead non-violent demonstrations against racism. His campaigns were instrumental in passage of the three major Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. In later years, he turned his attention to economic empowerment of the poor and opposition to the Vietnam War, contending that racism, poverty, and militarism were interrelated. In 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to non-violent social change.

Rev. King lived in constant danger – dynamited, stabbed, jailed 30 times, and often threatened with death. Through it all, his deep faith sustained him. He often spoke of a night in 1957 when, after receiving a particularly vicious phone call, he wept. He prayed. He heard the Lord speaking to him, saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice.” And he heard the Lord promise never to leave him alone, “No, never alone.” For the last decade of his life, Dr. King referred to this as his “Mountain-top Experience.”

“He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain … and I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

Excerpted, in part, from A Great Cloud of Witnesses