Ethics & Religion
January 18, 2018
Martin Luther King's Last Sermon
By Mike McManus
Fifty years ago this spring, Martin Luther King, Jr. was
assassinated. He gave his last sermon on March 31 at the National
Cathedral, days before his death.
I lived in Montgomery, Alabama where King achieved his first victory. It
was difficult. Negroes had to sit in the back of the bus. But Rosa
Parks, a leader of the NAACP, intentionally sat in the white section on
Dec. 1, 1955. She was arrested.
King called for a "Bus Boycott," a refusal by blacks to ride buses on
Dec. 5. That day 90% of blacks boycotted the buses. Thousands of women
walked miles to white neighborhoods to be maids.
That night King and other black leaders organized the Montgomery
Improvement Association (MIA) and elected King President. He told them,
"I want it to be known that we're going to work with grim and bold
determination to gain justice on the buses of this city."
"And we are not wrong...If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United
States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong." On Dec. 8, MIA
demanded passengers be served on first-come, first-served seating for
The demand was refused, so black residents stayed off buses for the
whole year of 1956. An intricate car pool system of 300 cars helped
many. But I remember seeing black maids trudging long distances.
King's home was bombed. He declared, "Be calm as I am and my family are.
We are not hurt and remember that if anything happens to me, there will
be others to take my place." City officials obtained injunctions against
MIA and King was tried and convicted and ordered to pay a $500 fine or
serve 386 days in jail.
Pacifist Bayard Rustin visited Montgomery and offered King advice on how
to apply Ghandian principles of nonviolent protest. King said, "Christ
showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work." A Federal
Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional, and the U.S.
Supreme Court upheld that decision. On Dec. 20 King called off the
boycott and joined other blacks to board desegregated buses.
King asserted, "We came to see that, in the long run, it is more
honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So we decided to
substitute tired feet for tired souls."
King's leadership in the Bus Boycott elevated him to a national leader
of what became the Civil Rights Revolution. His march from Selma to
Montgomery was attacked by police and state troopers. But marchers did
not fight back, remaining peaceful. The result was passage of the Civil
Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act which gave Negroes their first
In his National Cathedral sermon, King said, "Racial injustice is still
the black man's burden and the white man's shame." He recalled that in
1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation
Proclamation. But he was not given any land to make that freedom
meaningful...It left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what
King said, "I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, in the poorest
county in the United States. I saw hundreds of little black boys and
black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. And I was in
Harlem just this week. I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw
them not with wall-to-wall carpeting but wall-to-wall rats and roaches.
This welfare mother said, "The landlord will not repair this place." She
showed me holes where the rats came in. She said, "Night after night we
stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children."
King announced, "We are coming to Washington in a Poor People's
Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled
masses....We are coming to demand that the government address itself to
the problem of poverty. We read one day, "We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
But if a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither Life nor
Liberty nor the possibility for the Pursuit of Happiness. He merely
On the night before his assassination, King declared, "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 that promised land... I'm not
fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
(This is my 1,900th weekly column.)
Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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