On the eve of his assassination, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., about the long struggle for civil rights.
Just 39, King had been in enough marches and protests, had given enough speeches, to fill a lifetime. That night in 1968, he didn’t sound like someone expecting to live to old age. "Longevity has its place,” King said, "but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” Four-and-a-half years after he had spoken at the Lincoln Memorial about an America in which people would be judged by their character and not their color, King said he had glimpsed the coming dream. "He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over,” he said. "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.” Perhaps not even a visionary like King — whose birthday is celebrated across the country today (he would’ve been 80) — could have imagined a black man being inaugurated president. When Barack Obama takes the oath of office tomorrow, King’s dream and vision, in large part, will come to pass. Racism still exists in America. But in Obama’s elevation to the land’s highest office, something that was impossible in King’s lifetime has been realized. And along with it renewed hope that so much more may be as well.