Martin Luther King Jr’s Human Side

Carolyn’s Online Magazine



On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis, Tennessee, to give a speech supporting a strike by garbage workers. To many persons his speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, appeared to predict his own death.

I decided to take one aspect of his speech to discuss for 2016’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day—his humanity.King_portrait

As I listened to Ralph Abernathy in his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.

As a historical figure King has been shrouded in so much myth that it’s intriguing to try to make him flesh and blood, according to Katori Hall, author of a play The Mountaintop, a fictional account of the last 24 hours of King’s life.

In his Broadway debut Samuel I. Jackson, 62, fills the role of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. by stepping into King’s shoes and portraying the possible—the probable—emotions, regrets, and fears of the civil-rights leader on the eve before his assassination. It’s a haunting story of a man facing his own mortality.

In writing the play Hall had to move away from inspiring historical facts to make a drama, to ask how King talked when he was out of the limelight, behind the scenes. When he was not a pastor or giving public speeches. Hall strictly avoided using anything he said in his speeches.

The result? According to Jackson, the play shows King’s humanity and vulnerability in a new way.

Hall recognizes that we need our hero myths, but she also recognizes that that expectation sanctifies leadership, removing leadership from the realm of regular people, the source of our leaders.

King’s end to his speech indicates to me that somehow he knew of his impending death. Although he exuded strength in his words, I wonder about his feelings of vulnerability.

He spoke about leaving Atlanta for Memphis. As his party of 6 boarded the plane the pilot apologized, over the public address system, for the plane’s delay in starting the flight. The airline took extra precautions to check all the bags and the plane to ascertain that nothing was wrong because King was a passenger.

Upon landing in Memphis he heard there was talk about threats against him. He asked What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

He unconcernedly stated his uncertainty as to his future during the coming difficult days.

But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind…I’ve seen the promised land.

His goal was simply to do God’s will, regardless of his longevity. He stated he wasn’t worried about anything, he didn’t fear any man.

He’d wondered who Ralph Abernathy’s was talking about, as did Hall while she wrote this play, and Jackson, as he stepped into King’s shoes.


I haven’t seen the play, but, like Hall, in my writography* I attempt to find the picture behind the character, the picture of the real person, not the public person performing their profession.

We undo our heroes today by scratching so far beneath the surface that our heroes humanity isn’t uncovered, its scourged.

One doesn’t have to do this to show our heroes humanity, to know they are a part of  the realm of regular people, the source of our greatest leaders. This provides hope that anyone can become a leader. This is part of what King’s life shows us.

From what I’ve read, Hall did more than an acceptable job of portraying King’s humanity. And someday I hope I’ll be able to see this play. Perhaps it will reveal the King Abernathy introduced as King presented his I Have A Dream speech.


*writography: a combination of writing and photography



Interview: Katori Hall The Memphis-born playwright hits the summit with her new work. By Adam Feldman


By Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By O. Fernandez, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at My novel site is
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3 Responses to Martin Luther King Jr’s Human Side

  1. Mavis Jackson says:

    Good article Carolyn, but I have one correction. The name of his speech was changed to “I Have A Dream” for some reason which I won’t go in to. The name of his speech was “Normalcy…Never Again”, and his point was that if things did not change for Black People in this country, we would respond with a withdrawal of our financial support. If you go back and listen to his speeches the last two years of his life, you will find surprising information, I enjoy reading your articles, so keep ’em coming! Be blessed and tell the hubby hello for me.


    • Thank you for your comment. I’d never heard the original title, but the title with Mountaintop was given by an official site. I guess there’s controversy everywhere. You summarized the point of his speech nicely. There was so much in the content of this speech as he shared that message. I hope by taking a different view, something not so known, I didn’t divert readers from his main point. Again, thank you for your comment.
      I’ll share your comment and greetings with hubby.


  2. Pingback: Rethink Church Lenten Photos 2016: Week 1 | Carolyn's Online Magazine

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