Martin Luther King, Sr.
Martin Luther King, Sr.
December 19, 1899
Stockbridge, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||November 11, 1984
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Alberta Williams King 1926–1974 (her death)|
|Children||Martin Luther King, Jr. (deceased)
Christine King Farris
Alfred Daniel Williams King (deceased)
Delia Linsey King
Life and career
King, Sr. was born Michael King and led the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and became a leader of the civil rights movement, as the head of the NAACP chapter in Atlanta and of the Civic and Political League. He encouraged his son to become active in the movement.
King was a member of the Baptist Church and decided to become a preacher after being inspired by ministers who were prepared to stand up for racial equality. He left Stockbridge for Atlanta, where his sister Woodie was boarding with Reverend A.D. Williams, then pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. He attented Dillard University for a two year degree. After King started courting Williams' daughter, Alberta, her family encouraged him to finish his education and to become a preacher. King completed his high school education at Bryant Preparatory School, and began to preach in several black churches in Atlanta.
In 1926, King started his ministerial degree at the Morehouse School of Religion. On Thanksgiving Day in 1926, after eight years of courtship, he married Alberta in the Ebenezer Church. The couple had three children in four years: a daughter, Willie Christine King (born 1927), Martin Luther, Jr. (1929–1968), and a second son, Alfred Daniel Williams King (1930–1969).
King Sr. became leader of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in March 1931 after the death of Williams. With the country in the midst of the Great Depression, church finances were struggling, but King organized membership and fundraising drives that restored these to health. By 1934, King had become a widely respected leader of the local church. That year, he also changed his name (and that of his young son) from Michael King to Martin Luther King after becoming inspired during a trip to Germany though he never changed his name legally by the life of Martin Luther (1483–1546), the German theologian who initiated the Protestant Reformation.
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 also broadcast on WAEC, a religious radio station in Atlanta.
In his 1950 essay An Autobiography of Religious Development, King Jr. wrote that his father was a major influence on his entering the ministry. I guess the influence of my father also had a great deal to do with my going in the ministry. This is not to say that he ever spoke to me in terms of being a minister, but that my admiration for him was the great moving factor; He set forth a noble example that I didn't mind following.
King Jr. often recounted that his father frequently sent him to work in the fields. He said that in this way he would gain a healthier respect for his forefathers. This was a driving factor in his civil rights movements across the United States.
In his autobiography, King Jr. remembered his father leaving a shoe shop because he and his son were asked to change seats. "This was the first time I had seen Dad so furious. That experience revealed to me at a very early age that my father had not adjusted to the system, and he played a great part in shaping my conscience. I still remember walking down the street beside him as he muttered, 'I don't care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.'
Another story related by Martin Luther King, Jr. was that once the car his father was driving was stopped by a police officer, and the officer addressed the senior King as "boy". King pointed to his son, saying "This is a boy, I'm a man; until you call me one, I will not listen to you."
Martin Luther King Jr. became an associate pastor at Ebenezer in 1948, and his father wrote a letter of recommendation for him to Crozier College. Despite theological differences, father and son would later serve together as joint pastors at the church.
King Sr. was a major figure in the civil rights movement in Georgia, where he rose to become the head of the NAACP in Atlanta and the Civic and Political League. He led the fight for equal teachers' salaries in Atlanta. He also played an instrumental role in ending Jim Crow laws in the state. King Sr. had refused to ride on Atlanta's bus system since the 1920s after a vicious attack on black passengers with no action against those responsible. King Sr. stressed the need for an educated, politically active black ministry.
In October 1960, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested at a peaceful sit-in in Atlanta, Robert Kennedy telephoned the judge and helped secure King's release. Although King, Sr. had previously opposed Kennedy because he was a Catholic, he expressed his appreciation for these calls and switched his support to Kennedy. At this time, King, Sr. had been a lifelong registered Republican, and had endorsed Republican Richard Nixon.
His son, Martin Luther King Jr. soon became a popular civil rights activist. Taking inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi of India, he led nonviolent protests in order to give African Americans greater rights.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in 1968. King Sr's youngest son, Alfred Daniel Williams King, died of an accidental drowning on July 21, 1969, nine days before his 39th birthday. His wife Alberta was murdered in June 1974. She was sitting at the organ of their church when she was shot. King Sr. continued to serve as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church until 1975.
In 1969, King Sr. was one of several members of the Morehouse College board of trustees held hostage on the campus by a group of students demanding reform in the school’s curriculum and governance. One of the students was Samuel L. Jackson, who was suspended for his actions. Jackson subsequently became an actor and Academy Award nominee.
King Sr. played a notable role in the nomination of Jimmy Carter as the Democratic candidate for President in the 1976 election. After Carter's success in the Iowa caucus, the New Hampshire primary and the Florida primary, some liberal Democrats were worried about his success and began an "ABC" ("Anyone But Carter") movement to try to head off his nomination. King Sr. pointed to Carter's leadership in ending the era of segregation in Georgia, and helping to repeal laws ending voting restrictions that especially disenfranchised African Americans. With King's support, Carter continued to build a coalition of black and white voters and win the nomination. King Sr. delivered the invocation at the 1976 and 1980 Democratic National Conventions. King, Sr. was also a member of Omega Psi Phi.
King Sr. published his autobiography in 1980.
- David Collins, Not Only Dreamers: the story of Martin Luther King, Sr. and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Elgin, Ill: Brethren Press, 1986)
- Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., Daddy King: an Autobiography (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1980)
- Mary-anne Coupell, "Martin Luther King Jr.'s Whole Life" (Beijing: Brethren Press, 1985)
- Murray M. Silver, Esq., "Daddy King and Me," Memories of the Forgotten Father of the Civil Rights Movement. (Savannah, Ga., Continental Shelf Publishers, 2009)
- Martin Luther King, Jr., King Sr.'s son, American clergyman, activist, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
- Martin Luther King III, one of King Sr.'s grandsons, also named Martin Luther.
- Tanya Mohn (2012-01–12). "Martin Luther King Jr.: The German Connection and How He Got His Name". Forbes.com. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
- Chapter 1: Early Years. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Thespian Net. Samuel L. Jackson. Retrieved 24 April 2007.