It is 3 April 1968; the Vietnam war is at its height, US President Lindon B. Johnson has announced that he will not seek re-election and Martin Luther King Jr is speaking in Memphis, Tennessee, on what will be his last night of life.
He is thinking about history, the struggle ahead, of his life and the fortune of having been born into his time. He explains to the audience:
“If I were standing at the beginning of time…and the Almighty said to me, ‘Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?’”
In answering this question, Dr King reviews the flow of human history. He touches on moments of height: The Jewish People leaving Egypt, Plato debating in Greece, Abraham Lincoln ending slavery in the United States, FDR declaring that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Again and again, Dr King describes the power of the moments and adds “But I wouldn’t stop there.” Instead, his answer is simply “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
He explains this strange choice:
“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.
Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: ‘We want to be free.’”
Time passes on. It has been over five decades now since Dr King’s final night. Much is still happening in the world and the same cry “We want to be free” is heard. Right now, the Cape Board is engaged in fighting for the reopening of the Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town. An essential government facility which ensures rights to those seeking asylum in South Africa. This stance is not enough to fix our world, but it may help some to live with dignity and humanity.
It is a place to start as we help move our world towards justice.