"Play it real pretty"

Martin Luther King mugshot.jpg

Photo caption:

"Martin Luther King Jr. was photographed by Alabama cops following his February 1956 arrest during the Montgomery bus boycott. The historic mug shot, taken when King was 27, was discovered in July 2004 by a deputy cleaning out a Montgomery County Sheriff's Department storage room. It is unclear when the notations 'DEAD' and '4-4-68' were written on the picture."


Martin Luther King in Life.jpg

Photographed by Howard Sochurek in Atlanta in 1960, at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference convention

Taylor Branch, speaking in an online-only Time Magazine interview, January 1, 2006:

"Nobody expected an overarching leader of American freedom to be a black man. I mean people did not see that. He was the leader of the whole country."

Martin Luther King Memphis Hotel.jpg

From Branch's At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68, published this week by Simon & Schuster:

[Sometime after 5:40 p.m. and before 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968,] King walked ahead of [Reverend Billy] Kyles to look over the handrail outside, down on a bustling scene in the parking lot [of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee]. Police undercover agent Marrell McCullough (a mole in the entourage) parked almost directly below, returning with SCLC staff members James Orange and James Bevel from a shopping trip to buy overalls. Orange unfolded his massive frame from McCullough's little blue Volkswagen, tussling with Bevel, and Andrew Young stepped up to rescue Bevel by shadow-boxing at a distance. King called down benignly from the floor above for Orange to be careful with preachers half his size. McCullough and Orange walked back to talk with two female college students who pulled in just behind them. Jesse Jackson emerged from the rehearsal room, which reminded King to extend his rapprochement. "Jesse, I want you to come to dinner with me," he said.

Kyles, overhearing on his way down the balcony stairs, told King not to worry because Jackson already had secured his own invitation. Abernathy shouted from Room 306 for King to make sure Jackson did not try to bring his whole Breadbasket band, while Chauncey Eskridge was telling Jackson he should upgrade from turtleneck to necktie for dinner. Jackson called up to King: "Doc, you remember Ben Branch?" He said Breadbasket's lead saxophonist and song leader was a native of Memphis.

"Oh, yes, he's my man," said King. "How are you, Ben?" Branch waved. King recalled his signature number from Chicago. "Ben, make sure you play Precious Lord, Take My Hand in the meeting tonight," he called down. "Play it real pretty."

"O.K., Doc, I will."

Solomon Jones, the volunteer chauffeur, called up to bring coats for a chilly night. There was no reply. Time on the balcony had turned lethal, which left hanging the last words fixed on a gospel song of refuge. King stood still for once, and his sojourn on earth went blank.


Listen to Democracy Now's report on the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. Hear excerpts from King's 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech (which, at the time, Time called "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi"); Robert Kennedy's announcement of King's death on April 4, 1968; and King's "I Have Been to the Mountain Top" speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968. Read the Playboy interview from January 1965. Remember songs for King and the Civil Rights movement at ILM. Read and hear more about Thomas A. Dorsey's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord." Have a great MLK weekend. If you're in Minneapolis, stop by Oak Street Cinema on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. to support the great movie theater, which might close next week otherwise.

My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Loading...