Interview with Ralph Abernathy

Let me ask you about the mountaintop speech. You fly back into Memphis, you go to the Lorraine Motel. But Dr. King sends you by yourself to the Mason Temple. How did you get to be sent by yourself and how did he end up coming to give the speech?


Well, ah, there was a tornado warning in Memphis that evening. And it was raining, raining, and wind was blowing everywhere. I believe a little tornado came, ah, to Memphis also. And he knew that there would not be a big crowd. And he said to me, in the meeting, with the staff, ah, "Ralph, I want you to go and speak this evening at the mass meetings."" He had become so accustomed to large crowds, and ah, and I said, "oh no, don't send me. Ah, send, ah, Jesse, or Andy or one of the other fellows." And he said, ah, "Ralph, there is only person in the world that can speak for me. And that is Ralph David Abernathy. Will you go?" And I said, "Yes, you know I will go." And ah, and so, I went. And I saw only about 300 people, as many photographers, ah, more photographers than almost people in the church. And that, that is the same church that holds about 10 or 12,000 people. And so ah, when I got in, ah, and was seated, I knew that those photographers and those cameramen were looking for Dr. King. And it was not meant for me. And so, ah, I asked where is the nearest telephone. And I decided that I would go find that telephone and call for Dr. King. And Dr. King, ah, he said, "OK, Ralph, I will be right there." And I made a second pitch, ah, I said, ah, "Martin, you know I would not ask you to come, ah, ordinarily, but these people want to hear you, and they want to see you." And he said, ah, "David, that is not important, ah, I will be there. And I, have I ever told you that I would do anything that I did not do? And, I will be there as soon as the car can bring me over." And, ah, when he got over there to the church, ah, in 15 minutes, ah, ah, the camera, the cameron--cameramen were glad to see him, and the people were glad to see him, and, ah, the presiding officer, tells, says to me, Which one of you want to be first tonight?