MLK’s Final Sunday Sermon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Washington National Cathedral is well known for its neo-gothic architecture, stunning stained glass and its rich history. It’s hosted multiple State Funerals for presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, and memorial services for several others. 

The Cathedral is also an integral piece to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

In front of the Washington National Cathedral sits the Canterbury Pulpit. Dr. King delivered his final Sunday sermon from the massive stone pulpit on March 31, 1968. 

The title of King’s sermon was “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” 

“We stand in the most segregated hour of America,” said King from the pulpit over 55 years ago. 

“It was an uneasy time, there was war going on,” said Reverend Leonard Hamlin Sr., Canon Missioner at the Washington National Cathedral. 

It was the height of the civil rights era and the Vietnam War. Rev. Hamlin says it was a critical time for U.S. decisionmakers. 

“What are the decisions that really reflected the democratic principles, the kind of reputation that we wanted the country wanted to hold in the world,” said Rev. Hamlin. 

“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind,” said King in the sermon. 

The Washington National Cathedral has archived audio of King’s sermon, which centered around unifying and staying present during the fight for civil rights, economic prosperity and peace.  

“Having his voice here presented an opportunity not only for the country to move forward, but even for some just to begin to consider how we live together and work together and build a community together,” said Rev. Hamlin. 

Five days after King’s sermon, a memorial service was held at the very same cathedral he preached just a few days earlier. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, TN, where he was joining sanitation workers to fight for better working conditions and economic equality. 

“No one was anticipating that that would take place or how it would affect the country. We all struggle at times to be present in every moment. So, in that moment where we really listening to his sermon about staying awake,” said Rev. Hamlin. 

Rev. Hamlin believes King’s message is just as important now as it was over 55 years ago. 

“To engage each other, to build relationships with each other, to love one another, to really not just have it in word, but to make sure that we are turning those words into action,” said Rev. Hamlin. “We should try to love our neighbors as ourselves. We should ground ourselves in the way of love. To not be afraid to simply talk and greet with one another. We cannot make progress until we have a connection with one another.”