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Alberta Williams King

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Alberta Williams King
King c. 1960s
Alberta Christine Williams

(1904-09-13)September 13, 1904
DiedJune 30, 1974(1974-06-30) (aged 69)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Cause of deathMurder
Resting placeSouth-View Cemetery
EducationSpelman Seminary
Hampton University
Morris Brown College (BA)
(m. 1926)
Martin Jr.

Alberta Christine Williams King (September 13, 1904 – June 30, 1974) was an American civil rights organizer best known as the wife of Martin Luther King Sr., and as the mother of Martin Luther King Jr. She was the choir director of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. She was shot and killed in the church by 23-year-old Marcus Wayne Chenault six years after the assassination of her eldest son Martin Luther King Jr.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Martin Luther King Jr. (left), Henry Elkins (center), and Alberta Williams King (right) at Ebenezer, 1962

Alberta Christine Williams was born on September 13, 1904.[2] Her parents were Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, at the time preacher of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and Jennie Celeste (Parks) Williams.[3] Alberta Williams graduated from high school at the Spelman Seminary, and earned a teaching certificate at the Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute, now Hampton University in 1924.[4]

Williams met Martin L. King, then known as Michael King, whose sister Woodie was boarding with her parents, shortly before she left for Hampton. After graduating, she announced her engagement to King at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.[4] She taught for a short time before their Thanksgiving Day 1926 wedding, but she had to quit because the local school board prohibited married women from teaching.[4]

After their wedding the newly married couple moved into an upstairs bedroom at the Williams's family home, which is where all three of their children were born.[5] The King family lived in the home until King's mother's death from a heart attack in 1941, when Martin Jr. turned 12 years old.[6] In 1980 the home was designated for preservation as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.[6] The house the family moved to was located nearby. It has since been torn down.[6]

The King's first child, daughter Willie Christine King, was born on September 11, 1927.[7] Michael King Jr. followed on January 15, 1929, then Alfred Daniel Williams King, named after his grandfather, on July 30, 1930.[8] About this time, Michael King changed his name to Martin Luther King Sr.[9]

Alberta King worked hard to instill self-respect into her children. In an essay that Martin Luther King Jr., Crozer Seminary who was always close to her, wrote that she "was behind the scenes setting forth those motherly cares, the lack of which leaves a missing link in life."[4]

During this period King continued her studies at Morris Brown College, receiving a BA in 1938.[10]

King founded the Ebenezer choir and served as church organist from 1932 to 1972.[4] Her work as organist and as director at Ebenezer is considered to have deeply contributed to the respect her son had for music.[11] 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.[12] She returned to the position in 1963 and continued in the role until "retiring" in 1972.[12]

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.[4] She was also active in the YWCA, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.[4]

Family tragedies, 1968–1969[edit]

King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. King was in Memphis to lead a march in support of the local sanitation workers' union. He was pronounced dead one hour later. Mrs. King, a source of strength following her son's assassination, faced fresh tragedy the next year when her younger son and last-born child, Alfred Daniel Williams King, who had become the assistant pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, drowned in his pool.


ֶAlberta King was shot and killed on June 30, 1974, aged 69, by Marcus Wayne Chenault, a 23-year-old Black man from Ohio.[13] Chenault's mentor, Hananiah E. Israel, a Black Hebrew Israelite preacher who rejected the New Testament, castigated Black civil rights activists and church leaders as being evil and deceptive, but claimed in interviews not to have advocated violence.[14] Chenault did not draw any such distinction. He first decided to assassinate Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago, but canceled the plan at the last minute.[14]

Two weeks later, he set out for Atlanta, where he shot Alberta King with two handguns as she sat at the organ of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. While Alberta was playing "The Lord's Prayer" on the church organ, Chenault stood up and yelled, "You are serving a false god", and fired his gun at her.[15]

Chenault said that he shot King because "all Christians are my enemies," and claimed that he had decided that Black ministers were a menace to Black people.[12] He said his original target had been Martin Luther King Sr., but he had decided to shoot King's wife instead because she was near him.[12] He also killed one of the church's deacons, Edward Boykin, in the attack and wounded retired schoolteacher Jimmie Mitchell in the neck.[12]

King and Boykin were rushed to the nearby Grady Memorial Hospital.[1] Officials announced King was "barely alive" when she arrived at the hospital. Boykin was pronounced dead on arrival.[1] King died shortly afterward from a gunshot wound to the right of her head.[1]

Alberta King was interred at the South-View Cemetery in Atlanta.[16] Martin Luther King Sr. died of a heart attack on November 11, 1984,[17] and was interred next to her.[16]


Chenault was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The sentence was upheld on appeal. He was later resentenced to life in prison, partially as a result of the King family's opposition to the death penalty.[15] On August 3, 1995, he suffered a stroke, and was taken to a hospital. On August 19 1995, he died aged 44 from complications from his stroke.[18][19]


  1. ^ a b c d Winchester, Simon (2014-07-01). "Martin Luther King's mother slain in church: From the archive, 1 July 1974". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  2. ^ University, Stanford (2017-06-22). "Alberta Williams born". The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  3. ^ Ancestry of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr
  4. ^ a b c d e f g University, Stanford (2017-06-01). "King, Alberta Williams". The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  5. ^ "Birth Home - Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  6. ^ a b c "The Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home". History Atlanta. 2014-01-18. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  7. ^ University, Stanford (2017-05-02). "Farris, (Willie) Christine King". The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  8. ^ University, Stanford (2017-06-01). "King, Alfred Daniel Williams". The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  9. ^ University, Stanford (2017-06-12). "King, Martin Luther, Sr". The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  10. ^ University, Stanford (2017-04-18). "Alberta Williams King receives BA from Morris Brown College". The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  11. ^ Lewis V. Baldwin, The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 27)
  12. ^ a b c d e "In Memory of 'Mama King'". Ebony. September 1974.
  13. ^ Delaney, Paul (July 12, 2022). "Slaying of Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr". The Decatur Review. New York Times. p. 6. Retrieved August 10, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ a b "I Gave Marcus the Key", Dayton Daily News, July 3, 1974, pp. 1 and 15.
  15. ^ a b Burns, Rebecca (June 28, 2012). "The murder of Alberta King". Atlanta Magazine. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  16. ^ a b "South-View Cemetery". Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  17. ^ Aaseng, Nathan (2014). African-American Religious Leaders. Facts on File. p. 134. ISBN 978-0816078684.
  18. ^ The Seattle Times: Living: Martin King 3rd: living up to society's expectations
  19. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (August 22, 1995). "M. W. Chenault, 44, Gunman Who Killed Mother of Dr. King". The New York Times.


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