Happy Birthday Dr. King! This past summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Auburn Street in Atlanta, Georgia. I took Melody with me and thought it would be nice to save this post to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday! Auburn Street is the area where Martin grew up. His home and the church where his father and grandfather pastored are just a few blocks apart. The area known as Sweet Auburn, now includes The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Site and The King Center.
There was so much to see that I’ve decided to make two posts out of my visit. This post will feature his childhood home and church in honor of his birthday and next week’s post will focus on his work in civil rights and his legacy to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
In 1909, the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams bought a two-story Queen Anne house for his family at 501 Auburn Street. The home was originally built in 1895 and was located just a few blocks from the church he pastored, Ebenezer Baptist Church. The Rev. Williams, his wife Jennie and their only living child, six-year-old daughter Alberta Christine moved into the home.
At the age of twenty-three, Alberta married a minister in her father’s church, named Michael Luther King. The newlyweds moved into the family home with Alberta’s parents and had three children. Their middle son Michael Luther (often called M.L.) was born on January 15, 1929 in an upstairs bedroom. (M. L. later changed his first name to Martin.)
The King home was a very impressive house for its time. The hall and stairs are very narrow so visitor tours are limited and you must walk in a line. For preservation purposes, you are not allowed to take pictures or step into the rooms. The house next to the King home is now set up as a gift shop and has photos of the King’s home interior. I took pictures of them so you could get an idea of what we saw. Unfortunately, they aren’t very clear but hopefully you can get an understanding of the layout.
When entering through the front door, a hallway runs from the front to the back of the house. The rooms are to the left of the hall. The first room is the parlor and the room where early civil rights meetings were held by M.L.’s father and grandfather. M.L.’s mother, Mama King would hold choir practice for the church in this parlor and the King children took piano lessons here.
The King family had a formal dinner every evening in the dining room. The children dressed up and were expected to recite a Bible verse before they ate. The members of the King family would each discuss their day along with current events and world views. Each member, no matter his age was expected to have something to contribute to the conversation.
The kitchen was definitely the heart of the King home with M.L.’s grandmother doing the majority of the cooking for the family. M.L. was particularly close to his grandmother and once he was grown, was quoted saying “She was very dear to each of us, but especially to me.”
Next we headed upstairs to the bedrooms. It was in their parents bedroom, that all three King children were born. First came daughter Christine, then Martin (M.L.) and lastly Alfred Daniel also know as A.D.
M.L. and A.D. shared a bedroom and according to their sister it was always in “great disarray”. The boys had clothes and toys all over the room. The boys also had a lot of books because knowledge was very important the King family. Mama King and the children’s grandmother would read to the boys from an encyclopedia often because they wanted the children to know of the world outside of Auburn Street.
While growing up in Sweet Auburn, M.L. had a best friend whose father owned a grocery store across the street. The little white boy and M.L. played together daily until the boy told him that his father said they could no longer play together because M.L. was black, he was only six years old. He was terribly hurt by this and never forgot the pain he felt that day.
“The climax came when he told me one day that his father had demanded that he would play with me no more, I will never forget what a great shock this was to me.”
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr
In 1941, after Mama King’s father passed away, the King family moved to a home three blocks away. M.L. was twelve years old at the time and the King’s kept the original home as a rental.
Martin was an extremely intelligent boy. He skipped both the 9th and 11th grades, and started attending Morehouse College at the age of 15. He received his bachelor’s degree in sociology by 19 years old. After graduating college, Martin had doubts about following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps to become a minister but ended up deciding that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape”. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary and graduated at the age of 25 with his PhD. While completing his residence for his doctorate at Boston University, he met an amazingly intelligent and artistic woman named Coretta Scott.
We will continue with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and amazing work in civil rights next week in Part 2.
As I mentioned above, Ebenezer Baptist Church was pastored by Martin’s maternal grandfather and father. Martin was the most famous member of the church and was baptized there during childhood. At the age of 19, he preached a trial sermon in the church and was then ordained as a minister. In 1960, he became the co-pastor of the church with his father until his death in 1968.
Out of respect, Melody changed into her Fancy Dress before visiting the church. We went downstairs to the fellowship hall area and read about the church’s history before heading into the sanctuary.
Martin’s grandfather, Rev. A.D Williams, promoted black businesses and urged his congregation to purchase homes, and “get a piece of the turf.” He taught them to fight for adequate public accommodations for blacks, despite Jim Crow segregation laws. Ebenezer became a home for like-minded people during the civil rights movement. Under the leadership of the King family, the congregation continuously battled against segregation and unfair laws.
On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. His funeral was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 9, 1968.
Six years after the assignation of Dr. King, his 70-year-old mother was shot in the church while she played the organ for Sunday service. A young black man came into the church shooting two pistols wildly and saying that “all Christians” were his enemy. He fired for ninety seconds before he was taken over by men of the church. Mama King was taken to the hospital “barely alive” and died shortly after arriving. She was shot less than a hundred yards from where her son was buried.
At the end of my visit, I decided to sit for a while, silent in the wooden pew. I was overcome with a deep sadness. Throughout the sanctuary, a speaker plays Dr. King’s final speech that he gave on April 3, 1968, “I Have Been to the Mountaintop”. An overwhelming feeling of loss swept over me as I listened to Dr. King’s voice.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
After giving this speech, he was assassinated the next day.
Thank you Dr. King for your love and passion for people and for your commitment to what is right. Enjoy your birthday in the Promised Land.