Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD. ≈ Psalms 31:24
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan, signed into law Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday legislation. We celebrated this federal holiday the third Monday of January. It is a day when America pauses to remember the life and legacy of one of God’s chosen champions. A man, who delivered a dream of hope, for all mankind. Hope that still resonates in the hearts of men, women, and children.
Though I never met the man. I am thankful to the late Rev. Dr. Thomas E. Gilmore, who told me about the last time that he saw Dr. King. It was Wednesday, March 20, 1968. About 10:30 p.m., near a tiny airstrip in the rural town of Marion, Alabama.
Rev. Gilmore had driven Dr. King and a few members of his staff there from Greene County. Dr. King had spent a long day in speaking engagements. So, it was late as they traveled on narrow meandering two lane country roads. Trying to get Dr. King to Marion, to board a small plane leased by a project called The Poor People’s Campaign. That would transport him to Washington D. C. for his next engagement.
When about half way between Greensboro and Marion a tractor-trailer rig passed them. The truck slowed down and then blocked the road. Forcing Rev. Gilmore to stop. The driver, a man, mid to late 30’s, small build, got out of the truck. He left behind two comrades, who just watched.
He walked over to Rev. Gilmore’s car and put his hand on the driver’s door. Then he told them, preceded by unceremonious, derogatory language. “Get those bright lights out of my rear-view mirror”.
In that tense moment, Rev. Gilmore, told me that he was prepared to protect Dr. King with his life. But that wouldn’t be necessary. Rev. Gilmore watched Dr. King leaned over in the seat next to him. Almost touching his right shoulder, and said, “Young man get back in your truck. You are trying to start trouble. Get back in your truck”. The man stepped backwards. Stood there for a while, speechless. As Rev. Gilmore drove off. Mindful to avoid the trailer rig still blocking his side of the road. Soon they reached Marion, AL without further incidents.
Rev. Gilmore and I, had quite an in-depth telephone conversation about that situation. I remember the date, Dec. 22, 2012, because the conversation started with an email that he sent to me. An email that I revisited today. Searching for the words, he used to describe the distinctiveness of Dr. King’s voice. That even after speaking at various churches, all day. Late into the night… Dr. King spoke with crystal-clear clarity on that fated night in 1968.
Rev. Gilmore emphasized that Dr. King’s voice was mesmerizing. He’d never heard anything like it. He wondered if the other’s in the car heard it too… a resounding quality of peaceful God-given authority. But, they didn’t speak about what had just happened as they continued their journey.
Rev. Gilmore told me that on that night… he thought, “Only God knows the weight of the Cross that Dr. King bears”. Thank you, Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. for hope in such a time as this.
God Bless… I am Wiley’s granddaughter.