On April 3, 1968, in Memphis, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the last speech of his life. The “I’ve Seen the Promised Land” speech seemed to foreshadow his assassination the next day.
But for participants in a King celebration at the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Spokane on Sunday, the end of that speech seemed a prelude to the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president.
Elder Jimmy Pierce, of Unspeakable Joy Christian Fellowship, read excerpts from the speech: “And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.”
What King saw when he looked over the mountaintop was a theme that reverberated throughout the afternoon, as the celebration of King’s life was intertwined with hopeful anticipation of Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama.
“Martin Luther King saw this day,” Pastor Lonnie Mitchell said earlier in the ceremony. “Welcome to the promised land.”
Pierce mentioned a little boy with a funny name and parents from a mixed marriage who would grow up to become president of the United States.
“Martin Luther King saw this little boy,” Pierce said.
Bernice Buchanan said after the service that the time between the ratification of the Civil Rights Act and electing the first African-American president isn’t very long.
“Forty-four years is a short time,” Buchanan said.
The Rev. Happy Watkins brought Willie Earthman, 100, to the front of the crowd. Watkins then read from Obama’s Election Night speech, when he spoke of a 106-year-old woman born a generation past slavery who couldn’t vote for two reasons: because she was black and because she was a woman. Earthman became the local face of how things have changed in the past century.
The service was filled with speakers and performances by the Spokane Gospel Choir and the Discovery School Choir. The celebration was not only about the African-American community’s past, but its hopes for the future.
“We’re so grateful to see the dream of our Dr. Martin Luther King coming to fruition,” said Elder Ezra Kinlow of the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ.