Monday, January 15, 2024

If I Had Sneezed

On this annual commemoration of Martin Luther King, I took my granddaughter to a local celebration. Today I learned for the first time of this speech. I'd heard parts of it before, but not in the context of surviving a life-threatening event.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King gave his last speech before being assassinated. Before this speech, a couple of years back, while he was at a book signing, a demented lady stabbed Dr. King with a letter opener. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital, where his life was saved. While recovering, he read many letters of support, but one stood out. A white 9th grader wrote a letter wishing him well. She told him she heard that if he had sneezed, he would have lost so much blood and died. She ended by saying, I'm so happy you didn't sneeze. 

If I Had Sneezed (this is not the official title, but it is how I will always remember it) is the last speech Dr King gave before he was assassinated. He was assassinated the next day.

Here's the remainder of that speech:

And I want to say tonight - I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn't sneeze because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that, as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation and interstate travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed - if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been here in 1963. Black people of Birmingham, Alabama aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama to see the great movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.

And they were telling me, now it doesn't matter, now. It really doesn't matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning and then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.

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.

And 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.

BTW, the woman who stabbed him ended up in a mental hospital and died in 2015. Dr. King never pressed charges against her.

I'm grateful for the courageous impact of Dr. King. Never be afraid to take a stand for what is right. 


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