(4 of 13)
This was hardly the first time King flirted with martyrdom in a speech. One of the first profiles written about him during the bus boycott noted a "conspicuous thread of thanatopsis" in his private conversation as well. What emerged this Sunday was a brooding reverie on external and internal burdens from the drum major instinct. "And every now and then I think about my own death," he told his congregation. He gave fitful instructions for his own funeral service--"tell them not to talk too long"--hoping someone would mention "that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others." The eulogist should omit all his honors and attainments simply to testify perhaps that King tried to love enemies, comfort prisoners, "be right on the war question," and feed the hungry. "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major," he cried, "say that I was a drum for justice! Say that I was a drum major for peace--I was a drum major for righteousness--and all of the other shallow things will not matter." In thunderclap rhythm, with his distinctive voice blending ecstasy and despair, King finished the oration soon to become famous by the disembodied recording played at his funeral.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE LAST DREAM
Over the opposition of his staff, King reached out to leaders of other ethnic groups to enlist them in the Poor People's Campaign
KING MET WITH 78 "NONBLACK" MINORITY LEADERS ON Thursday, March 14, for an anxious summit closed to reporters. Mostly unknown to each other, let alone to King, they ventured by invitation from across the U.S. to Paschal's Motor Lodge in the heart of black Atlanta. Wallace (Mad Bear) Anderson spoke for a poor Iroquois confederation of upstate New York. A deputy came from the bedside of Cesar Chavez, who had barely survived a 25-day fast in penance for violent lapses by striking California farmworkers. Tillie Walker and Rose Crow Flies High represented Plains tribes from North Dakota, while Dennis Banks led a delegation of Anishinabes. During introductions, King aide Bernard Lafayette whispered to King what he had gleaned about basic differences among Puerto Ricans as distinct from Mexicans (Chicanos), or the defining cause of the Assiniboine/Lakota leader Hank Adams, who spearheaded a drive for Northwestern salmon-fishing rights. Lafayette had checked repeatedly to make sure King wanted the hardscrabble white groups to be included, and the answer was always simple: "Are they poor?" The motor lodge's meeting room was dotted with coal miners, some of whom braved fierce criticism from Appalachian rivals, and one white participant, Peggy Terry, admitted being raised in a Kentucky Klan family. After moving to Montgomery during the bus boycott, she had gone once on a lark to see "that smart aleck nigger come out of jail," and the actual sight of King buffeted by a mob had angered her. Now Terry kept a few black friends in the Jobs Or Income Now group from uptown Chicago's poor white district, and she wowed movement crowds by asking where else a hillbilly housewife could trade ideas or jail cells with a Nobel prizewinner.
Black sanitation workers in Memphis were in the 10th day of a strike when supporters, including SCLC member James Lawson, staged a march. After police charged the crowd with truncheons and cans of Mace, Lawson appealed for King to come.