The night before he died, he uttered the stirring and prophetic words that have since become iconic:
"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!"
One believes The Promised Land that Dr. King saw was that which he outlined in perhaps his most famous speech: a land in which people of all races and creeds could live in harmony. He had a vision of the future that -- to him -- was as palpable as the pressure of the collar of his shirt or the weight of a Bible in his hand. Somehow, some day, he knew it would come to pass. He was also sure he would probably not live to see it.
That this man saw the future so clearly is testament to the vision that some human beings, harnessing the native power of cerebral intellect, can will into existence in their own minds, laying aside the dark fears, incongruities, and instincts built up over millions of years in more primitive parts of the brain. Not given to fear or to hate or to prejudice, he extrapolated forward and saw the world that would come to pass, and saw his role in bringing that world into sharper focus. Fortified by the words of The Bible, girded for battle in a cloak on nonviolence, the man would will that world into existence, if he could. He laid out that vision, in the hope that others would recognize it, clutch it to their chests, incorporate it, make it their own, and help propel humanity forward.
It is sad to say that we seem no closer to The Promised Land now than we were that day in Memphis. The election of President Obama, which might have been seen in another light as a true representation of our progress, only served to highlight how much work still remains. His election awakened the ghosts of April 4th, and let them loose to vex us once more. Our nation is now locked in a desperate struggle against the forces of intolerance and bigotry once more, and these enemies of all that is human are even more entrenched and brazen. The hangman's noose has been replaced by the 9-mm automatic. The poll tax has been replaced by voter identification requirements. Slavery has been replaced by the prison cell. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to pick up the baton that fell on that horrible day. It is time to show that Dr. King's faith in humanity was not misplaced. It is time for us -- each and every one -- to lead the way to The Promised Land.