Auburn professor reflects on MLK's life and legacy
AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - An Auburn professor and civil rights leader is just one of thousands taking part in events in Memphis to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. worked with King and was with him just hours before his assassination at the Lorraine Motel.
Bernard Lafayette wasn't at Mason Temple for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech, but he still remembers King's demeanor when he returned from that church to the Lorraine Motel.
"When Martin Luther King Jr. got back we were supposed to finish the press statement for the Poor People's Campaign, but King was so euphoric. He was so excited. His spirit was so high. We couldn't do the press statement. We decided to finish it the next morning," said Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr.
In Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, King summoned Lafayette, a veteran of sit-ins and freedom rides, to his room on the morning of April 4, 1968 to finish work on the press statement for the Poor People's Campaign.
"He said the next movement we will have is to internationalize and institutionalize nonviolence. He said you go on to Washington D.C. and get things started and I will be along later. So those were the last words I had from him and that is what I did," said Lafayette.
It wasn't until his plane landed in D.C. that Lafayette learned the news King had been shot. He still recalls having one pay phone in each hand, the Associated Press desk in one ear, United Press International in the other as the reporters read from the ticker tape what was happening minute by minute.
"I was not expecting him to die," said Lafayette. "This UPI reporter started crying. This white man started weeping on the phone. I could hear him sniffling. That is how I knew Martin Luther King had died."
Fifty years have passed since that dark moment, but Lafayette says looking back he rest in knowing the assassination plot carried out that day was not successful.
"You see when a person gives his life for a cause you can't take a person life who has already given their life. So they missed as far as I am concerned," said Lafayette.
Proving no one and nothing will ever be able to stop the mission King lead.
"His message is all over the world. He was able to give a new interpretation of love," said Lafayette.
Lafayette is the chair of the National Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which was founded by Dr. King. He is also the author of "In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma."
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