San Antonians sit next to a mural on San Antonio's Eastside that depicts Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Kay Richter.
A Credit: Kay Richter for the San Antonio Report

The night before his assassination, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a packed house in Memphis. He went straight to the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.

What we mostly remember are his powerful words near the end of the 45-minute speech.

“I just want to do God’s will,” he said. “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!”

Those six simple sentences still reverberate today because they mixed with our collective heartbreak at what followed the next morning.

Looking back, we see that Dr. King had already risen above his times. He knew with certainty that the movement he’d done so much to shape could – and would – move forward without him.

Still, every now and then we should remind ourselves why he was in Memphis. The reverend was there to rally support for the city’s striking sanitation workers. By then, Dr. King had spent years expanding African Americans’ struggle for their rightful place in society to challenge specific ills – like poor pay and lousy working conditions for city workers, atrocious public housing, and war. He was working out an agenda for justice, based on his increasingly nuanced worldview.

His primary aim, however, didn’t change. He wanted African Americans to lay claim to their full rights as citizens and for the United States to live up to its promise of justice and liberty. His tools, collective action and nonviolence, didn’t change, either.

Dr. King laid out the essence of his life’s work much earlier in the Memphis speech, with this unadorned sentence: “Either we go up together or we go down together.”

That’s a powerful statement about how you change society for the better. And our society is better, even though 46 years after his murder, the struggle continues. But African Americans’ progress is clear. Like Latinos, they have more access to education and the ballot box, and less discrimination in the workplace. They have greater opportunities and bigger dreams.

Imagine the City of San Antonio infused with the same sense of unity as the movement Martin Luther King Jr. led. “Either we go up together or we go down together.” Imagine Westsiders, Eastsiders, Southsiders, and Northsiders all feeling like they’ve got a shared stake in the civic, moral, and economic health of San Antonio. Imagine the greatness we could achieve together.

In that spirit, and without the distraction of electoral politics, let’s all come together on Monday in what we’re proud to call the largest MLK March in the country.

A note about the March:

Tomorrow is a day of unity and reflection on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy – on how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. Please join us in front of MLK Academy starting at 9:15 a.m. Click here for information on the route and VIA bus service to the March.

Tomorrow is not a day for campaign politics. The March shouldn’t be a campaign stop or an opportunity to score a few votes. So please leave your “Mike for Mayor” T-shirts, pins, and signs at home.

Let’s come together and talk as San Antonians. The campaign for Mayor can wait a day.

*Featured/top image: San Antonians sit next to a Martin Luther King Jr. mural on San Antonio’s Eastside. Photo by Kay Richter.

This message was sent out as an email by Mike Villarreal.

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Mike Villarreal is a former state representative and founding director of the Institute on Urban Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio.