BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS — In the mystical silence of the Bimini mangroves, a swampy cluster of thick trees, bushes and home to 100 species of fish and marine life, Martin Luther King III stood in the sacred place where his father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., relaxed in a small wooden boat, rocked in the gentle tide, and wrote his last two speeches – and his eulogy – 48 years ago.
“This is a spiritual experience for me,” King III told BlackAmericaWeb.com during an interview in Bimini two weeks ago. “This is my personal journey to this ancestral place where Dad came to collect his thoughts.”
In a little-known yet profound piece of history, King, in 1964, wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on the island of Bimini in The Bahamas. In this tropical paradise known for its serenity, King returned to Bimini in 1968 to write the last speech he delivered to the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee before his death.
And in a powerful, self-ordained prophesy, King also wrote part of his own eulogy among the mangroves knowing, perhaps, that his time on Earth would end soon.
For Martin Luther King III, his emotional trip marked the first time that he had visited Bimini. He said his father, Dr. King, enjoyed the mangroves — his private, celestial retreat — and found an inner peace among God’s creatures.
“It helps me to understand this place,” said King, as a flock of birds crisscrossed the clear blue skies. “This is most moving for me.”
King III, Dr. King's eldest son, was only 10 years old when his father was assassinated on April 4, 1968, but he remembered stories told by his mother about how his father was drawn to the peace and tranquility of Bimini.
Two weeks ago, in commemoration of Dr. King’s time in the Bahamas, Bahamian officials dedicated a bronze bust of the late civil rights leader during a four-day tribute starting on October 4. The bust was designed by sculptor Erik Blome.
A second bust was placed in the mangroves where King wrote his speeches and became friends with his Bahamian guide, Captain Ansil Saunders, a world-renowned bone fisherman and boat builder who remembers King fondly.
“There was such humility about Dr. King,” Saunders, the 80-year-old angler, recalled. “He enjoyed communing with nature in the mangroves. Birds were signing. Stingrays were swimming by. He was inspired. When he first stepped foot on this soil, I could tell there was something special about Dr. King and Bimini.”
But Saunders said King had a fateful premonition.
“He wrote part of his eulogy in my little boat,” Saunders said. “He knew he was going to die. He told me that he didn’t think he would make it to 40 – and with tears rolling down his face he said he would soon touch the face of God.”
About two weeks later, Saunders said, King was dead. He was 39.
“When Dr. King looked around these mangroves,” Saunders recalled, “he wondered how people could not believe in the existence of God.”
During a ceremony commemorating King’s experiences in Bimini, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie said King’s legacy will forever live in the hearts of the Bahamian people.
“This event marks the establishment of an international memorial in Bimini honoring the transforming work and great legacy of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Christie said. “His extreme sacrifice, brilliant life, his vision of non-violent change while impacting the United States of America and the international community, inspired the founding fathers of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, led by our Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindilng, in this nation’s struggle for self-determination and independence.”
But it’s deep in the soggy mangroves where King seemed most comfortable. Stemming from its unique ecosystem and abundant wildlife, the mangroves is one of the most biologically diverse bio-networks on the planet. It’s a place where snapper, spiny lobster, conch, grouper and the endangered smalltooth sawfish live in the miles of marsh.
On a hot summer day two weeks ago, King III wiped the sweat from his forehead as he stood in the shadow of a large umbrella while looking at his father’s water-logged sanctuary.
“It’s all connected,” King said smiling. “I feel joy here.”
For more information about Bimini – and the Bahamas – visit www.bahamas.com.