• Lillie Burke

Former civil rights marchers share Dr. King’s view from the mountaintop

More than 47 years later, Alvin Turner and Baxter Leach still remember the immortal words they heard given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis on April 3, 1968.

“I always wondered, ‘What did he see on that mountaintop?,’” said Turner. “And then, one day, I realized: he saw my three little girls. Mine. My pride and joy.”

In 1968, Turner and Leach witnessed the final speech given by King and shared their experience of hearing his words Wednesday morning at chapel.

At the time, both Turner and Leach were sanitation workers in Memphis. They, along with other African-American workers, were on strike demanding equal rights and better working conditions from the city.

King arrived in Memphis on April 3 to champion their cause and delivered the sermon titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” the day before he was assassinated.

Wearing pins saying “I Am A Man,” which were the same words used by the workers in 1968, the two gave their reflections on the experience of listening to King.

“He didn’t come for sanitation, he came for everybody,” said Leach.

Before Baxter and Leach spoke, the audience watched a clip from the last part of King’s “Mountaintop” sermon. King said in the clip that while there might be dark times ahead, he wasn’t concerned because God had “allowed me to go up to the mountain.”

“And I’ve seen the promised land,” said King. “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.”

Turner said he believes King was speaking about the hopeful futures of the individual person, including Turner’s three daughters, when he spoke about seeing the promised land.

“He saw my little girls not grow up like me. They was gonna get educated,” Turner said. “He saw my oldest daughter retire from the Navy with a good job, a good position, with the VA Hospital in Memphis. He saw my middle daughter; she is over two or three colleges in Atlanta, Georgia. He saw my baby daughter, she is an assistant to the president of the University of Tennessee.”

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