Martin Luther King Jr. Countdown To Eternity

Martin Luther King Jr. Countdown To Eternity by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a crowd at the Masonic Temple in Memphis on April 3, 1968 saying threats on his life really didn't matter to him now because he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. He said he knew he might not reach that land with his people. Yet he clung to the belief that America would become the promised land of liberty and justice for everyone including his people.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve lost him.  It’s all over...”
— Physician

The next day as the crusader for social justice strolled alone on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel a shot rang out and King was cut down by an assassin's bullet.

Within minutes Rev. Jesse Jackson said King's companions were on the balcony reaching out, urging him to hold on. The bullet, a metal-jacketed .30-06, had smashed through his neck.

It was the ending King anticipated. 

"Our father was a King...not the kind you bowed down to...a king who fought for justice with the shield of prayer and the sword of nonviolence," Yolanda King, his daughter said. "(He was) one who stood up for millions of men, women, and children---Not the kind who wore a crown but one who crowned a movement."

Change often comes by way of tragedy and that's what happened.

The day after King's assassination Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield spoke on the floor of Congress.

"Dr. King was a man of moderation and hope," he said. He prayed that "our people will realize" their responsibility now "to put into effect the rights guaranteed to all our citizens under the Constitution...All of us are on trial."

In the Senate, most segregationist leaders said nothing.

One week after King's death Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed the third civil rights act of the 20th century. Supporters of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act) said they wanted to pay their respects to King and show ghetto-dwellers that hope was not gone. Members of Congress spoke of redeeming his death by completing his work. 

King wasn't certain this change of heart would happen. It was his final victory. He often said he focused on bringing the intrinsic tensions of an unjust society to the surface. For that, he paid. 

Death changes things. In King's case it served as a lever.

Best friend and colleague Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Solomon Lee stood next King in the emergency room of the hospital that day.

"I'm sorry," the head physician said. "But we've lost him.  It's all over."

Thinking back over their years together and the miles traveled Lee thought:

"We were always tired. I know he was tired. Now maybe he'll get some rest."

Abernathy assumed he and King would be killed together. He realized he was alone now filled with overpowering loneliness and wondering how he would carry on without his friend and mentor.

On March 31, Swann Auction Galleries featured a selection of King items in its Printed & Manuscript African Americana sale. 

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Paper Banner; "I marched for EQUALITY in the FREEDOM PARADE, Aug. 28, 1963, Washington D.C.;" 16 inches by 10 inches; $1,062.

Paper Portfolio Memento; "March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom Aug. 28, 1963: We Shall Overcome"; 11 inches by 9 1/4 inches; $7,500.

Portfolio; Countdown to Eternity: Photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; limited edition; 12 prints; 8 1/4 inches by 12 1/4 inches; $12,500.

Poster; I AM A MAN; 1968; 22 inches by 15 3/4 inches; $23,750.

Placard; HONOR KING: END RACISM!; cardboard; 1968; 22 1/2 inches by 14 inches; $25,000.    


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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