ONU unveils Martin Luther King Jr. statue

ADA — In a new statue unveiled Tuesday on the campus of Ohio Northern University, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is portrayed as many might think of him: dressed in a suit, standing at a podium speaking.

But that isn’t the only way to remember the civil rights leader, who spoke at ONU in January 1968, just a few months before being assassinated.

The Rev. Bernard LaFayette Jr. shared with the audience his last memory of King, which began with King in bed in his pajamas as it rained in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of April 3, 1968.

King and LaFayette were preparing for LaFayette to attend a press conference in Washington, D.C. about the Poor People’s Campaign.

“And he got this phone call. And the phone call was from (the Rev. Ralph) Abernathy,” who wanted King to speak at Mason Temple that night.

“You’re asking me to come out and take off my pajamas and get dressed and come out” as it was “raining cats and dogs,” LaFayette remembered King saying.

Yes, Abernathy confirmed. The crowd had been disappointed when King wasn’t there.

So King got dressed and, unprepared, gave what turned out to be his prescient last speech.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop,” King said.

“And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life —longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. 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. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

King was fatally shot the next evening as he stood on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel.

The last things he had told LaFayette that morning were that he’d be in D.C. later, and that they should “internationalize and institutionalize nonviolence.”

So LaFayette has made a career out of nonviolence training.

The assassination “didn’t stop his philosophy,” LaFayette said. “They tried to kill Martin Luther King, but they missed. … They tried, but you can’t take somebody’s life who’s already given their life for a worthwhile cause.”

And in a way, the first part of what King last told LaFayette came true too: A few years ago in D.C., “I looked up, and there was Martin Luther King, 30 foot tall.”


About the Author