In Memorium: MLK's Lesson in Collective Intelligence
How Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have been to the mountaintop" speech embodied collective intelligence.
RAYMOND B. KANIU
Arguably Martin Luther King Jr.'s best speech, "I have been to the mountaintop" captures the very essence of collective intelligence and how humans can bring about the changes they wish to see. The speech was given shortly before his assassination and makes it one of the most poignant speeches of the Civil Right Movement era. In it, he highlights how powerful human will power is and how it can be used to inspire change.
Martin begins with a global perspective as if he were standing at the beginning of time with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to the day of the speech on April 3rd, 1968. Everything from ancient Greece, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, The Great Depression when FDR reminded people that, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” inspiring others to overcome adversity, and the Civil Rights era that was coincidentally taking place in parallel with the African independence movements at the time of the speech. He intoned, “Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
How humans throughout history have been trying to deal with adversity, how it had become less a matter of talk and more a matter of action. How unity and solidarity would be a massive part of that action to root out injustice wherever it has taken hold. To anchor external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. How collectively we are richer than all the nations of the world except for nine - if those figures were adjusted to today’s figures, it would be astonishing. MLK understood that collectively it would make us powerful if we knew how to pool it. He went on to explain how to use that power to his audience adding, “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”
He then touches lightly on when he had a close brush with death when he was stabbed by a woman seeking an autograph and how a sneeze would have driven the knife deeper to sever his aorta and would have caused his untimely death. How he used the sneeze as a metaphor to explain how a simple event in life can cause unimaginable ripples for future generations. How he had gathered the courage for the tough road ahead because he had been to the mountaintop, and his actions had become absent of fear. That we would get to the promised land.
He died the following day on April 4th, 1968.
His speech serves as a reminder that one could lean on the same words to arrest some of the global issues around us in as much as we have changed collectively as a global community, we still have a long way to go.
May his words inspire you as they have inspired me. Full transcript in writing and audio included above.
Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr.,