Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech was more than brilliant rhetorical art

Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of this speech. MLK was killed the next day. Here is Scott Newstok in Chapter 16:

Most of us are familiar with the Mountaintop speech. In the years since, King’s powerful closing words have gotten all the ink because his invocation of Exodus so eerily anticipates his assassination. His opening lines are equally brilliant: in them, King acknowledges that “[s]omething is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.” He imagines the Almighty offering him a “general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now,” and asking him, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” King replies,

I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across, the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides, and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

As the speech unfolds—through the Roman Empire and the Renaissance and the Reformation and the Emancipation Proclamation and up to the New Deal—“I wouldn’t stop there” becomes a rhetorical refrain, building to a crescendo. At last, King tells the Almighty: “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” He admits that his own moment is bleak, that “the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.” But even in the hatred and the contention all around him, King finds hope in his fellow demonstrators, in the cry for freedom across the globe: “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” He’s making a defiant call for optimism in dire times.

More here.