If we love Martin Luther King Jr., and respect him, as this crowd surely testifies, let us see to it that he did not die in vain; let us see to it that we do not dishonor his name by trying to solve our problems through rioting in the streets.
Violence was foreign to his nature. He warned that continued riots could produce a fascist state. But let us see to it also that the conditions that cause riots are promptly removed, as the president of the United States is trying to get us to do so. Let black and white alike search their hearts; and if there be prejudice in our hearts against any racial or ethnic group, let us exterminate it and let us pray, as Martin Luther King Jr. would pray if he could: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” If we do this, Martin Luther King Jr. will have died a redemptive death from which all mankind will benefit….
I close by saying to you what Martin Luther King Jr. believed: If physical death was the price he had to pay to rid America of prejudice and injustice, nothing could be more redemptive. And, to paraphrase the words of the immortal John Fitzgerald Kennedy, permit me to say that Martin Luther King Jr.’s unfinished work on earth must truly be our own.
From Born to Rebel: An Autobiography by Benjamin E. Mays. Copyright 1971 by Benjamin E. Mays. Used by permission of the University of Georgia Press.