Memphis, Tennessee (CNN)The agitator and the diplomat grip the railing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, the spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fell dead from an assassin's bullet.
The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down April 4, 1968, is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum extends to the dark red brick building atop the grassy slope across the street, which include the former boarding house bathroom window from which, history dictates, the assassin's fatal shot was fired. (Photo: John Rubenstahl/CNN)
"I was down there shadowboxing with James Orange in the parking lot, and I was talking to him, telling him he needed a coat," Young recalls. "He sort of raised his head to kind of see, test the weather, and ..." "Pow," Jackson whispers, unprompted. "... I heard the shot," Young continues.From his vantage point downstairs, all Young could see was King's shoes poking over the edge of the balcony after the civil rights leader crumpled to the floor. "Actually, his shoes got caught under here," he says, pointing to the lower railing on the second-floor balcony. "So, I saw his shoes there, but I didn't see him."Always one to cite the positive, Young adds, "I don't think he heard the shot or felt it. I think it was a beautiful death. I wouldn't mind going that way myself."A pain that won't go away
Standing on the balcony decades later, Jackson and Young reminisce -- pointing, laughing and hanging their heads over somber memories. They concur on the larger historical details and quibble like brothers over the minor ones: the topography, the scrub brush, who was driving what car. On occasion, Young pats the top of Jackson's hand while correcting him. The disciples didn't agree on every aspect of Jesus' crucifixion; they saw different versions of the same scene, Jackson explains. "We saw something different. We saw what we saw."The day after his visit to the motel, now home to the National Civil Rights Museum, Jackson told CNN that being on the balcony peeled back the scab of "a wound that remains raw.""The thought, the ideas, the pain just won't go away," he said during a follow-up interview in Atlanta.Jackson wishes his friend were still around to see the victories that his teachings made possible. But he concedes the 39-year-old Atlanta-born preacher may have accomplished more in death. "The resurrection of the martyr is more powerful than the marcher," Jackson said. "Martyrs cannot be arrested. Martyrs cannot be stoned. Martyrs cannot be shot. The resurrection cannot be contained by opinions. The resurrection is a very pervasive spirit."In marching, he was limited to finitude. In his martyrdom he is unlimited. He is infinite."Neither Jackson nor Young realized that at the time. As King lay on the balcony bleeding out, Young recalled only a sense of doom. Jackson twice ran for president in the 1980s on a platform that King would've wholly endorsed. It included overhauling the war on drugs, nuclear disarmament, improving public education and universal healthcare -- issues that still resonate today. "Every move I've made, whether it's a demonstration or running for the presidency, I always felt his spirit, and in some way I touched base with him before doing it," the father of six says.Adds Young, "I've done all kinds of things, but there's nothing that I've done that I didn't feel was inspired by something that came into me through him."These aging lieutenants of the civil rights movement don't get around like they used to. Decades of fighting show in their thinning gray hair and strained gaits.Bearing his avuncular smile, Young tools around on a scooter but jumps up to join Southern Adventist University's traveling choir in "We Shall Overcome" and again to walk onto the Lorraine Motel balcony.Jackson is in the early stages of Parkinson's. His booming voice -- by which he championed "the desperate, the damned, the disinherited and the despised" -- is now reduced to whispers, at times drowned out by blackbirds chirping from the teardrop birdhouses overhead. But the towering orator still commands a crowd. As he leaves the museum, he spontaneously leads 200 people in a call and response of self-affirmation. "We have ... survived ... apart," it begins. "We must now learn ... to live together." 'Death is the ultimate democracy'
Jackson and Young say they have spotted King's spirit, alive and well, across the world. King was there when the Fair Housing Act passed, when the Berlin Wall fell and again in Tiananmen Square. He rose when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, when Barack Obama walked into the White House and when demonstrators across America took to the streets chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot."Watching youngsters in the nation's capital during the March For Our Lives rally, Young saw King's hand at work and wept as he listened to their speeches. He ponders what might have been possible had he, Jackson and King been able to tap the power of social media back in the 1960s.They marched through the same streets as MLK"Dr. King used to say that unearned suffering is always redemptive," he says. "These kids are about to continue our work of redeeming the soul of America."How you die should never be as important as how you live, and how King lived is now "a frame of reference" for those fighting for freedom and justice all over the world, Jackson says. Looking back, King's most trusted confidants say his death was but a temporary stoppage in the movement that still continues forward in his name. "It was the beginning. We were all very much in his shadow and proud to be, and he left us and sent us all out on our own," Young says. "He said, 'Look, you're going to die. Death is the ultimate democracy. ... You don't have anything to say about when you die, where you die, how you die. The only thing you can say is what is it you give your life for. And you have to give your life for something every day so that when you die, people will know that you were living for others and you were living out God's plan.'"Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/03/us/mlk-lorraine-motel-andrew-young-jesse-jackson/index.html