I need a summary of Dr. King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, he was supporting a strike among sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.  The main thrust of his speech was that African Americans needed to band together and strive to help these workers.  He also mixed that message with another message about how good it is to have lived through this particular time in history because this was a time when he could do good in the world.

King started the speech by saying that if he could live at any point in the history of the world, he would live when he did.  He says that this was a time when people all over the world were rising up because they wanted to be free.  Because of this, he said, he was happy to have lived when he did.

He then moved over to the topic of what actions needed to be taken in Memphis.  He said that African Americans needed to be unified like the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.  He said that “Pharaoh” wins when the slaves are divided but that the slaves will win when they are unified.

He said that blacks needed to continue with the nonviolent protests that had been his trademark over the years.  In addition, they needed to use their economic clout.  They needed to boycott businesses that had unfair hiring practices.  They needed to buy from and otherwise support black-owned companies. 

Toward the end of the speech, he said that people had to be bolder and more selfless in helping the sanitation workers.  He said that people should not worry about what would happen to them if they supported the workers. Instead, they needed to be like the Good Samaritan in the Bible and worry about what would happen to the sanitation workers (whom he likens to the man who had been hurt by the robbers in the story of the Good Samaritan) if they did not support them. 

This leads into the end of the speech.  He said that people living in his time should be grateful that they had a chance to live at a time when they could make a difference.  He said that he was grateful that he had not died when he was stabbed in 1958.  If he had died, he would not have gotten to participate in the struggle for civil rights.  However, he did not die then and he felt he had been blessed to get to see and do the things he had.  Therefore, he said, he was not afraid to die because he (like Moses) had been to the top of the mountain.  He had seen the promised land and he knew that his people would get there even if he himself did not.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were several ideas contained in the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One idea was that things were changing in the world, and he was glad that he was alive and that he was a part of the movement of the change that was occurring.

He said that events in the world were forcing people to deal with issues that had been avoided for many years. He said that the issue of African American rights had to be dealt with now. He believed the survival of the world depended on dealing with and resolving these issues regarding the poverty African Americans faced and the unequal treatment they experienced throughout the world. He believed it was no longer a choice between war and peace. It was a choice between nonviolence or nonexistence.

He believed that African Americans must remain unified. He also wanted to focus on the issue of injustice. He believed that the momentum of the nonviolent protests would not be stopped. He also believed that African Americans must use the power of economic boycotts on businesses that weren’t treating African Americans fairly. He also wanted African Americans to support African American businesses.

At the end of the speech, he urged African Americans to keep up the struggle. He said that they couldn’t stop now in Memphis. African Americans must think of themselves as a group instead of focusing on what will happen to them individually. They needed to think about what would happen to them as an entire group of people. He said that God took him to the mountaintop and showed him the promised land. He hinted he might not get there with the rest of them, suggesting that somebody might try to kill him. He reiterated that the African American people would get to the promised land.