April 4, marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The day before, while in town to support black striking Memphis sanitation workers, Dr. King gave an extemporaneous speech at Mason Temple Church. He did not intend to speak that night.
His remarks became known as the “I’ve Been To The Mountain top” speech. Many said he must have had a premonition of his death because he said as much with a resounding voice.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. 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 don’t mind. 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!”
As a people, African-Americans can say there is a sitting African-American president in the White House. Sadly, although there are none currently serving, there have been eight elected African-American senators. Of the current 435-member U.S. House of Representatives, only 130 are African-American. There have been two black Supreme Court Justices, the late Thurgood Marshall and current Justice Clarence Thomas. At least one city in every state of the Union has an elected African-American mayor; there are 641 African-American mayors elected nationwide.
There have been only four African-American governors: Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (R) from Louisiana (1872-1873); Douglas Wilder (D) from Virginia (1990-1994); Deval Patrick (D) Massachusetts (2007-present); and David Patterson (D) of New York, (2007-2010.) Pinchback and Patterson, both former lieutenant governors, rose to power after their respective incumbent governors were forced to leave office.
In 1940, Hattie Mc Daniel, won an Oscar for her role in Gone With The Wind, making her the first African-American to win an Academy Award. Since that time, fewer than 10 African-Americans have received acting awards at the Oscars.
In the world of business and education, African-Americans have made some great strides only newspapers, product companies and banks. Physicians Daniel Hale Williams and Percy L. Julian made extraordinary contributions to the field of medicine. Famed surgeons Ben Carson and Ralph Bunche brought unsurpassed, cutting edge techniques and medical procedures to the field of medicine.
In light of all of this, why then did I get emphatically negative responses when I asked Austin residents the question, ‘Have African-Americans as a people reached the Promise Land Dr. King spoke of in his ‘Mountain Top’ speech?’
Charles Spruill, a former lightweight professional boxer and lifelong Austin resident said he actually met Dr. King. It was during the early 1960s when King briefly lived on 1550 S. Hamlin on the West Side. “I believe the reason why African-Americans haven’t reached the Promise Land, Spruill said, “is because morals have declined and the family is lost.”
“I think we, as a people are going to have to come together and start organizing one another, and open up a dialogue where we can talk about difference issues,” Christel Williams said, adding: “We are waiting on a super Dr. King to come alone. We look and feed into black leaders to be the next MLK instead of taking that dream as a vision to make our community the way it should be.”
Jeff Rollins, a big believer in Dr. King’s dream and mountaintop proclamation said, “The dream is going to always go on because the dream is a dream of light. Although the light is dim, it’s still there, and the dream is still there.”
I share Rollins’ sentiment.
I believe the path is well lit and that African-Americans have caught sight of the Promise Land, but the pilgrimage is yet unfinished.