King Family Forefront of Civil Rights Movement

The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr, and Alberta King Lead by Example

Sources: Wikipedia, Elysian, Stanford University

In 1894 the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams was called to pastor Ebenezer Baptist Church.  As pastor of Ebenezer, Rev. A.D Williams promoted black businesses, urged his congregation to become homeowners, and “get a piece of the turf.” He led them in the battle for adequate public accommodations for blacks, despite Jim Crow segregation laws.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., known as “Daddy King, became pastor of Ebenezer in 1931, following the death of Rev. Williams.  Martin Luther King Sr was an African-American Baptist pastormissionary, and an early figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the father and namesake of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  King was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church for four decades, wielding great influence in the black community and earning some degree of respect from the white community.

He became a local leader of the Civil Rights Movement, serving on the executive committee of the NAACP chapter in Atlanta (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an interracial American organization created to work for the abolition of segregation and discrimination in housing, education, employment, voting, and transportation; to oppose racism; and to ensure African Americans their constitutional rights) and the Civic and Political League as an officer. He encouraged his son the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to become active in the movement.

Even after becoming a civil rights leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, in the “quiet recesses” of his heart Martin Luther King, Jr., remained a Baptist preacher. “This is my being and my heritage,” he once explained, “for I am also the son of a Baptist preacher, the grandson of a Baptist preacher and the great-grandson of a Baptist preacher”. The tightly knit extended family in which King, Jr., was raised had a profound influence on his worldview. “It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present”

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, at the age of 27, the Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King (A.D.) replaced his brother as Ebenezer’s second co-pastor.  Rev. A.D. was also an American Baptist minister and civil rights activist.  Rev. A.D. was arrested along with his brother Martin and 70 others while participating in an October 1960 lunch-counter sit-in in Atlanta. In 1963, A.D.King became a leader of the Birmingham campaign, while pastoring at First Baptist Church of Ensley in Birmingham, Alabama.

On May 11th, 1963, Rev. A.D. King’s house was bombed.  In August, after a bomb exploded at the home of a prominent black lawyer in downtown Birmingham, outraged citizens, intent on revenge, poured into the city streets. While rocks were being thrown at the gathering policemen the situation escalated, A.D. King climbed on top of a parked car and shouted to the rioters in an attempt to quell their fury: “My friends, we have had enough problems tonight. If you’re going to kill someone, then kill me; … Stand up for your rights, but with nonviolence.  Like his brother, A.D. King was a staunch believer in the importance of maintaining nonviolence in direct action campaigns.  A.D. supported his brother throughout the movement but never took the limelight away from him.

Rev. A.D.King often traveled with his brother and was with him in Memphis on April 4th, 1968, when his brother was shot dead. King was in the room directly beneath Martin’s at the Lorraine Hotel when the gun blast went off, and when he saw his brother lying mortally wounded, he had to be restrained by others due to the shock and overwhelming emotion he was experiencing.

After Martin’s death, A.D.returned to Ebenezer, where, in September 1968, he was installed as co-pastor. He was praised by his father as “an able preacher, a concerned, loving pastor”.  On July 21, 1969, nine days before his 39th birthday, King was found dead in the swimming pool at his home. The cause of his death was listed as an accidental drowning.

Alberta King, mother of Martin and A.D., and wife of Martin Sr., attended high school at the Spelman Seminary, attended Hampton University (where she received a teaching certificate) and Morris Brown College (Bachelor of Arts in Education).  She worked as a teacher in the Atlanta school system until her marriage.

As was customary in the 1920s, Alberta resigned from her teaching position to dedicate herself to her family after her wedding. She gave birth to three children, Willie Christine, Martin and Alfred. In a paper he wrote as a student at Crozer Seminary, Martin Luther King, Jr. describes his mother as a caring, dedicated parent and a consummate housekeeper. “My mother, Alberta Williams King was behind the scenes setting forth those motherly cares, the lack of which leaves a missing link in life.”

Married to Martin Luther King Sr. on Thanksgiving Day in 1926, Alberta King founded the Ebenezer choir and served as church organist from 1932 to 1972.  Her work as organist and as director at Ebenezer is considered to have deeply contributed to the respect her son had for music She served as choir director for nearly 25 years, leaving for only a brief period in the early 1960s to accompany her son and assist him with his work. She returned to the position in 1963 and continued in the role until “retiring” in 1972.

In addition to the choir, Alberta would also serve as the organizer and president of the Ebenezer Women’s Committee from 1950 to 1962. By the end of this period, Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. were joint pastors of the church.

Outside of her work at Ebenezer, King was the organist for the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention from 1950 to 1962. She was also active in the YWCA, the  NAACP, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.[4]

Alberta King was shot and killed on Sunday, June 30, 1974, at age 69, by Marcus Wayne Chenault at Ebenezer during Sunday services. Chenault was a 23-year-old black man from Ohio who stood up and yelled, “You are serving a false god”, and fired his gun while Alberta was playing “The Lord’s Prayer” on the church organ.  Upon capture, the assassin disclosed that his intended target was Martin Luther King Sr., who was elsewhere that Sunday. After failing to see King Sr., he instead targeted Alberta King and Rev. Edward Boykin.  Chenault stated that he was driven to murder after concluding that “black ministers were a menace to black people” and that “all Christians are his enemies”. ,Marcus Wayne Chenault, had adopted an extremist version of the theology of the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Chenault’s mentor, Rev. Hananiah E. Israel of Cincinnati, castigated black civil rights activists and black church leaders as being evil and deceptive, but claimed in interviews not to have advocated violence.  Chenault did not draw any such distinction, and actually first decided to assassinate Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago, but canceled the plan at the last minute.

King and Boykin were rushed to the nearby Grady Memorial Hospital.  Officials announced King was “barely alive” when she arrived at the hospital, while Boykin was pronounced dead on arrival. King died shortly afterward from a gunshot wound to the right of her head

Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church is now part of The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The church was restored in two phases beginning in 2001.

Ebenezer Baptist Church was completed in 1922. Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. became pastor of Ebenezer in 1931. In 1960 his oldest son, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., joined his father as Co-Pastor, giving Ebenezer international stature. Following the assassination of Dr. King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, the Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King, replaced his brother as Ebenezers second Co-Pastor. Rev. A. D. Kings tenure came to a close at his death in 1970, and was followed by Dr. Otis Moss in 1971. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. retired on August 1, 1975 after forty-four years of tremendous service to Ebenezer and the world. .  King died of a heart attack at the Crawford W. Long Hospital in Atlanta on November 11th, 1984, at age 84

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