On this day in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  He had come to Memphis, despite death threats,  to lend his support to a group of striking African-American sanitation workers.  On the day before his death, Dr. King delivered his last speech, the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address.

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917.  Her mother was a schoolteacher.  Her father worked as a janitor but had dreamed of being a doctor.  She published her first poem at thirteen, but the peak of Brooks’ work coincided with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Besides working for the NAACP, Brooks was a staunch supporter of small, African-American owned publishing companies, although she felt that her work was given short shrift by critics for this reason. 

Brooks became the first black woman to serve as the Library of Congress’ Consultant in Poetry (known later as the Poet Laureate of the United States).  Her poetry collection In the Mecca was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry.  In 1950, Annie Allen won her the Pulitzer Prize, the first ever for an African-American poet. 

Speech to the Young : Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

Gwendolyn Brooks, Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward, from Whisper and Shout: Poems to Memorize, Patrice Vecchione (Cricket Books, 2002)