The Legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has been nearly 40 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tenn. We remember King with a recording of his speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop" — the last the civil rights leader would deliver. King would have turned 79 this year.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And we end the program today with the voice of the man the nation memorializes today. He is Dr. martin Luther King, Jr.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

He died 40 years ago this year. It was April 4th, 1968. And the day before that, he spoke to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. And he called the speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop." Here is Dr. King.

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: 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. 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 promise 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.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

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Standing With Dr. King in Memphis

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., i i

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968. AFSCME hide caption

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Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn.,

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968.

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Read King's Speech

Taylor and Bessie Rogers, who still live in Memphis, visited a StoryCorps mobile booth.

Taylor and Bessie Rogers, who still live in Memphis, visited a StoryCorps mobile booth to discuss Martin Luther King Jr. StoryCorps hide caption

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Questions or Comments?

In 1968, 1,300 sanitation workers, most of whom were black, went on strike in Memphis, Tenn., protesting horrendous working conditions and low wages. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis to lend his support to the striking workers.

Taylor Rogers, one of the men on strike, went to the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, with his wife, Bessie, to hear King speak. What they heard is now known as the "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech — the last the civil rights leader would deliver.

As Rogers, now 79, recalled with his wife recently, "You just really can't describe it. He stopped everything, put everything aside to come to Memphis to see about the people on the bottom of the ladder, the sanitation workers."

"After his death, we marched. You couldn't hear a sound. You couldn't hear nothin' but leather against pavement," Rogers says, comparing the loss to what he would feel in losing a family member. "But we survived and with God's help, we came through."

The StoryCorps project records oral histories all around the country. Each interview is archived at the Library of Congress — and a selected excerpt airs on Morning Edition every Friday.

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