“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

by Rebecca Schmitz

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted to post a link to what is, in my opinion, Dr. King’s most moving speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop“. He gave it the night before his assassination on April 4th, 1968.  Beacuse of that, his final words are some of the most poignant in American history.

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! 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!

If you have the time, I really encourage you to listen to the audio file (others are available here). The words above are beautiful, but Dr. King’s delivery is meant to be heard.


  1. Widowmaker

    We should also not forget the original reason for this day, one of the greatest Generals of our country; Robert E Lee. In 1943 the US government set forth this day national holiday for this great general. In 1985 Reagan agreed to add MLK, and make it Lee-King day. However, in the past decade, America seemed to have forgotten the original reason, and of course half the name of the day. So, we shall remember a true American hero today, Robert E Lee.

  2. Widowmaker

    Quick fact change. I meant to say state (as a southern boy, born and raised) I always recognized the two together. When Reagan passed King day, my state passed King-Lee day. Not putting down MLK, but I feel no celebration goes into Robert E Lee on this day, anywhere anymore.

  3. Sorry, Widowmaker. You’re wrong. There’s no “we” in that remember. Only three states have that holiday: Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

  4. Simulpost!

    Why would any state outside the South want to celebrate Robert E. Lee day, anyway?

  5. Widowmaker

    Not so fast. Virginia celebrates as well, Robert E Lee in conjunction with Grant. The AP article missed a few. =) And to answer your question why would a person up north care what Lee did. Same reason they should care what MLK did. Lee helped shape our current world. Fighting against the oppression of the status quo against his state. MLK led movements through his speeches. All had their purpose in the state of the south. But, both very important to all 50 states.

  6. I wouldn’t say the “same” reason, Widowmaker. MLK strove to bring equality and justice to all Americans, regardless of race. Lee fought for a region and government opposed to that ideal. I don’t believe in lifting people and their ethics out of their specific time and place in history, so to hold General Lee to our standards–or even those of Dr. King–is impossible, but to compare the ethical legacy left by the two men is disingenuous, at best.

  7. Widowmaker

    Rebecca, not to push the subject to great. But remember, slavery did not become a subject of the war until it became unpopular in the north. The idea that slavery had anything to do with the war is bad 2nd grade history. While, the war was fought over states rights, and against a large central/federal government. All ideas, in today’s world, that are imperative. States rights, and a small federal government held to the 10th amendment. Protecting Virginia was protecting us today of a government that controls are lives and oppresses its people. He proved then, that we as Americans will not stand for oppression. And he fought to defend those ideals.

  8. Look, I know it’s popular among American conservatives and other ideologically-based historical revisionists to claim slavery was not one of the causes, let alone the main cause, of the Civil War. I know if I were from the South I wouldn’t be entirely proud of my region’s bloody past. If it makes you feel any better, no region’s innocent. Slavery was legal in the North not that long before the War itself. Obviously lynchings, KKK marches, and the casual racism of economic repression were endemic everywhere for many decades after the Civil War–whether you were in Mississippi or Montana. But let’s not kid ourselves, okay? The South may have stood against the oppression of its planter class, but it sure as hell also stood up for the right to oppress black Americans.

  9. Well, it seems like no less of an authority then Jefferson Davis (you might remember him, the President of the Confederacy) disagrees with you on the causes of the Civil War (perhaps you’d prefer to remember it as the War for Southern Independence). Either way, here’s an excerpt of Davis’ war message, delivered on April 29, 1861:

    …Under the mild and genial climate of the Southern States and the increasing care and attention for the well-being and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South; the white population of the Southern slaveholding States had augmented from about 1,250,000 at the date of the adoption of the Constitution to more than 8,500,000 in 1860; and the productions of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man. With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced. With this view the Legislatures of the several States invited the people to select delegates to conventions to be held for the purpose of determining for themselves what measures were best adapted to meet so alarming a crisis in their history…They consequently passed ordinances resuming all their rights as sovereign and independent States and dissolved their connection with the other States of the Union. (emphasis mine)

    Your understanding of history is as deficient as your moral judgment. Dr. King was a far greater man than any champion of a system that makes humans into mere property. Assert all you like that you commemorate Lee for some greatness of his that you perceived. Your twisted take on America’s past reveals the real reason some choose to remember Lee today: the smallness of his cause.

  10. Widowmaker

    Quick History fact Rebecca; Lincoln offered the south a deal before the war. If they would not start a war, he would have pushed for a 13th amendment to be for slavery to be states rights. The war pushed on, changing the 13th to abolish slavery. Fact checked, and in thousands of history book. The deal was more of a behind the scenes using his Vice President. Also, your civil war history is a bit too rusty and political to have an earnest debate. Slavery was legal in the north until the emancipation proclamation. Something Lincoln did not want to do until Britain threatened to supply the south unless he did. When the war was about over Lincoln sent in his all too eager, General Sherman to break every international law known to man and to hit the south with “total war”. 1/4 mile from my house was railroad tracks never fixed from that moment. I wouldn’t call that kind of win, a victory for morals. Mainly, your history comes from a sense of “white liberal guilt” not the truth.

  11. Widowmaker

    Jason, how does the world look from your high horse? Remember, I said look past your under educated 2nd grade US History at a glance , and really read about the war. I don’t know, maybe even study it for a while. I’m sure you’ll find that your current history knowledge matches your ability to judge a mans character. Actually, your crazy accusations that you are the authority of a mans moral compass, and your lack of knowledge of basic history is a concern of your education. You Jason, did get left behind.

  12. Widowmaker

    Rebecca and Jason. I do not want to get personal here (even though Jason came out like a poodle acting like a pitbull). I am saying that step back. Take a look at a man that was defending his beloved Virginia. Helping the poor from the rich. A man that wanted his state to no longer be oppressed. I am saying its a man, in my own opinion, that I hold high. But, all I am is seeing attacks on him, myself, and my culture. A rather odd thing. I always enjoy reading this blog. I was taking back a bit by it honestly.

  13. I know you desperately want to make Lincoln, and all of the North, the bad guy here (Oh, that horrible rascal General Sherman! He burned down Big Daddy’s plantation! Mammy, where are my smellin’ salts?) just to needle me, but it ain’t working. I know Lincoln wavered on the issue of slavery. I know the North was not a united abolitionist front. I know the Irish rioted in New York and torched the Colored Orphans’ Asylum because of the draft. I know lots of small farmers in the South never owned slaves and were decent human beings. You may call it “white liberal guilt”. I simply call it being honest. And by the way–I have zero guilt over slavery. I’m the granddaughter of immigrants. My family wasn’t even on these shores. I can’t even accept the blame like a good little white liberal. Nice try, though.

    I imagine the truth lies in what happened afterwards: Reconstruction and its response, the institution of Jim Crow laws. Call me naive, but a just and pure interest in states’ rights alone does not lead to the lynching of thousands of Americans over decades of terror and repression. Plessy v. Ferguson? The KKK? Something as seemingly frivolous as the lyrics to “Strange Fruit”? Where do you think this dark undercurrent in our history came from? Just those noble Southerners innocently protecting states’ rights again, or perhaps society drawing on a long and sordid history of slavery and racism?

    I’m sure Bull Connor and his thugs more than made up for those railroad tracks near your house, Widowmaker. Now welcome to the 21st Century. Your side lost.

  14. Widowmaker

    Unfortunately you are right. My side; the side of states rights, the constitution and freedom did lose that day. Constantly people are violating the 10th amendment. The federal government meddles in everything from education to proposed socialist ideas that have no place in our constitution. The war was about freedom, and it did lose. Btw, to say Sherman just burned down plantations, is to say radical islam is more than fair to women. Sherman and his crew raped tens of thousands of women. They burned down every house, murdered as many men as they could find. The taunted husbands while raping wives. They killed children in front of mothers. The retelling of this event would make any normal person cry. Wow, I am being completly honest. Do you think the south was really rich. And Sherman came in, as a modern day robin hood, and burned down those “evil rich” peoples homes. I mean…really? Seriously? Or do you think he was a criminal of the worst sorts?

  15. Freedom. There’s that pesky word again. See, your argument would actually have some credibility if that word wasn’t followed by the reality of the rest of the sentence:

    “The war was about the freedom to enslave other people.”

  16. Widowmaker

    Sigh…ok, so, regardless of what actually happened you are going to go with the factually incorrect “Civil War was about slavery”. I get it, ok. You are not interested in learning or the truth. I give up. However on a different note, I did enjoy the post Rebecca, and your other work. Seriously. Keep up the good work.

  17. Kilgore

    Ok, kids. First of all, Widowmaker, I do have respect for General Robert E. Lee. Many may not know that Lee struggled with this decision: whether to fight for his state or for his country. I don’t believe that Lee’s decision to fight for Virginia had anything to do with fighting FOR slavery, at least from his own personal perspective. Lee was a great man, who’s troops loved him so much they fought barefoot and starving.

    But I also think Lee would NOT support celebrating his life on the same day that we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. It is covertly racist and has absolutely nothing to do with Lee’s decision to fight for Virginia or his beliefs and motivations. It simply a matter of politicians taking advantage of a man’s legacy after his death to make a statement in favor of segregation. Celebrate Robert E. Lee Day next week if you care about him so much and it has nothing to do with bigotry.

  18. I have to agree with everything Kilgore said. And while you and I can agree to vehemently disagree, Widowmaker, I do appreciate your compliments.

  19. Jason Wiener

    If you’d care to hear someone who has spent his life studying the issue, UM hosts David Blight ’54–now a professor of history at Yale–on Friday, Jan. 25. At 8 PM, Prof. Blight will deliver a talk titled “Slaves No More: Two Recently Discovered Slave Narratives and the Story of Emancipation” in the University Center Ballroom. His afternoon talk in conjunction with the Philosophy Forum–“The Civil War and Emancipation in American Memory”–kicks off at 3:10pm in room 123 of the Gallagher Business Building. The latter talk will be based on Prof. Blight’s award-winning book Race and Reunion, which, according to the book’s summary, “explores the ways that contending memories of the Civil War clashed or intermingled in public memory from 1863 to 1915, focusing on race as the main problem in how Americans decided to remember and forget the Civil War.”

    So I am only left to wonder at how a remembrance of Dr. King turned into a blustery defense of the South’s motivation for seceding. And to marvel at the Rovian redirection accomplished by the same.

  20. Ed Kemmick

    I love when Southern apologists try to claim the Civil War was not about slavery. More than 20 years before the war, the Missouri Compromise was drafted to try to avert the conflict that was clearly on the horizon. I don’t remember how many clauses there were in the Missouri Compromise—something like 11 or 13—but every one of them dealt with the issue of slavery. There may have been some underlying motives on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, but slavery was the issue that defined and intensified the differences between the two sections.

  21. Now that sounds like my kind of Friday night, Jason!

    Lord…I’m such a geek.

  22. Ed: Not to mention John Brown. Does someone like that appear in a vacuum? If you listen to Widowmaker, attacks in Kansas like the Pottawatomie Massacre and the raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry were just, oh, I don’t know. A random quibble over the 10th Amendment?

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