A crowd gathered at Central Magnet High School in Murfreesboro on Monday afternoon to march together in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The group of more than 500 marched went down Hancock St, turning left onto Mercury Boulevard and into the Patterson Park Community Center, where Pastor Donald Whitmore of the True Gospel Missionary Baptist Church recited excerpts from two famous King speeches from memory.
“I was reading a paper that said I was going to do part of the Martin Luther King ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and I had decided I was going to do part of another speech that I had been preparing,” Whitmore said. “So I’m going to do the last speech he ever did in Memphis, Tennessee.”
Whitmore began to recite words King gave in Memphis on April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination. In the speech, King recalls being stabbed at a signing for his first book in Harlem in 1958. The New York Times, King said, claimed that if he had so much as sneezed, the blade would have punctured his aorta, and he would have “drowned in [his] own blood.”
In the hospital, King recieved letters from the PresidentLyndon B. Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and the governor of New York. But the one he chose to remember came from a white ninth grade girl, who said she was glad he didn’t sneeze.
Taking this as a refrain, both King at the Mason Temple in Memphis in 1968 and Whitmore under the Pavillion of the Patterson Park Community Center in Murfreesboro in 2015, launched into a timeline of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement that King saw in his life, counting them as reasons he too was “so happy he didn’t sneeze.”
That speech ends with King saying he does not fear death, despite threats of it surrounding him, because he had seen the “promised land.”
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead of us. But it doesn’t really matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop,” King said in his speech.
Pivoting energetically on the balls of his feet, Whitmore started into “I Have a Dream” without missing a beat. Continuing the themes of violence faced by black Americans and connecting past to present, Whitmore improvised on some of King’s immortal lines.
“I have a dream that we will see a day when we no longer have to see the atrocities that Trayvon Martin had to face, or that Ferguson, Missouri had to face,” Whitmore said before shouting “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” in a tribute to Eric Garner.
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