Early morning, April 4, 1968, a shot rings out in a Memphis sky.
From Garry Wills’ monumental essay:
It is interesting to contrast him with another preacher’s son—James Baldwin. Baldwin became a boy preacher himself as a way of getting out into the secular world. King became a student as a way of getting into a larger world of religion, where the term “preacher” would not be a reproach. He needed a weightiness in his work which only that “Doctor” could give him. He needed it for personal reasons—yes, he had all along aspired to be “De Lawd”—and in order to make Southern religion relevant. That is why King was at the center of it all: he was after dignity, which is the whole point of the Negro rebellion. His talent, his abilities as a “quick study,” his versatility, his years studying philosophy and theology (for which he had no real natural bent) were means of achieving power. His books and degrees were all tools, all weapons. He had to put that “Doctor” before his name in order to win a “Mister” for every Southern Negro. They understood that. They rejoiced in his dignities as theirs. The Nobel Prize didn’t matter except as it helped them. As T.O. Jones put it, “There can never be another leader we’ll have the feeling for that we had for him.”