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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 393

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This is the grave of Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King.

Born in poverty in Stockbridge, Georgia in 1899, Michael King connected desegregation to the ministry from a young age. He decided to become a minister after hearing some other ministers speak up against the segregated society in which he was raised. That becoming a preacher was one of the only ways into the black middle class surely did not hurt either. He left Stockbridge and moved to Atlanta. His sister was boarding with the pastor for Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rev. A.D. Williams. King took a two-year college program at Dillard College, and began courting Williams’ daughter, Alberta. She was born in 1904 in Atlanta and received a teaching certificate from what is today Hampton University in 1924. By the time she started that degree, the two were dating and they announced their engagement shortly after her graduation. They were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1926 and had three children shortly after–Willie Christine in 1927, Michael in 1929, and Alfred in 1930. After the engagement was announced, the Williams family strongly encouraged Michael to continue his education, which he did at Bryant Preparatory School. He began preaching in various churches around Atlanta.

In 1931, King replaced A.D. Williams as the lead minister of Ebenezer Baptist, after the older man died. In 1934, Michael King changed the name of himself and his oldest son to Martin Luther to represent his theologically beliefs. He was strong figure in the community, reorganized the church finances, and had a radio show on WAEC in Atlanta. He always fought segregation when he could, refusing to ride the buses after black passengers were assaulted by whites for instance, and became the head of the NAACP in Atlanta. King was a staunch Republican, even if he was consistently disappointed with Republican indifference toward his people, until the Kennedys intervened on behalf of Martin Jr. when he was arrested in Georgia and there was real fear the state law enforcement would just murder him. This led him to switch his support from Richard Nixon to JFK and started him as a late-life strong Democrat.

In 1968, Martin Jr. was of course killed, an unspeakable tragedy for the family and the nation. The next year, Alfred died in a drowning accident, although he was always troubled. In 1974, Alberta was shot and killed in Ebenezer Baptist Church while playing the organ during a service by a deranged person who thought Christianity was poison to black people. In fact, Martin Jr. was nearly murdered in the late 1950s in a similar fashion, being stabbed by a crazy woman during a book signing. Such was the danger of being a famous person. In 1969, Martin Sr. was briefly held hostage at Morehouse University by students demanding reform of the curriculum. One of the people involved was Samuel L. Jackson, who was suspended for his part in it. In 1980, King published his autobiography Daddy King, which is really worth a read. He died in 1984.

Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King are buried in South View Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia.

This grave visit was covered by LGM reader donations and I am very grateful for them. If you would like this series to cover more parents of leading civil rights figures, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Paul Robeson’s parents are in Princeton, New Jersey. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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