Sunday, Jan. 15 would have been Dr. King’s 77th birthday. On Jan. 16, the national holiday is observed. And throughout the day television ads will no doubt show segments of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Since his death in 1968, an entire generation of young people have been born, and many think all he did was make that one speech. Why is this? For one thing, information about Dr. King is not taught in schools or in our homes regularly.
Without a doubt, “I Have A Dream” was a wonderful speech although many of his followers think his speech at Riverside Church in 1967, “Beyond Vietnam,” was more significant, not to mention his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” where he responds to clergy criticisms. Here’s an excerpt:
“While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities ‘unwise and untimely.’ Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”
These kinds of criticisms were frequent and were not always from white folks. Even today you will hear people stating, “I marched with King.” But when Dr. King was living and traveling across the country, some of these same folks were “bad-mouthing” him and in some cases were reporting to the political administrations in their city. Such informants still exist today. The bonds created by the Montgomery Bus Boycott they find silly. Even Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has stated that Dr. King and his organization did not need to march. Segregation would have fallen under its own weight.
Rice came from Birmingham and allegedly was friends with one of the four young girls killed in the 16th Street Church bombing of 1963. When you look back at history and think about his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, in many ways it explains how some blacks felt during this time and how their attitudes could have produced a Condoleeza Rice, whose only connection to African Americans appears to be the color of her skin. Dr. King’s letter was quite long and composed with great thought. Toward the end, he states, “Never before have I written so long a letter.”
Hearing Dr. King’s speeches today still is very moving, but we also remember the numerous honorary degrees he received and how he was ordained at the age of 19 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Besides the Nobel Peace Prize award in 1964, he also was awarded The Spingarn Medal from NAACP, 1957; Man of the Year, by Time Magazine, 1963; The John F. Kennedy Award from the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, 1964; and The Aims Field-Wolf Award for his book, Stride Toward Freedom, just to name a few.
Events in the King family continue to amaze us. A little more than a year after Dr. King’s death, his younger brother, Alfred Daniel (A.D.) King, died in a accident at his home in Atlanta on July 24, 1969. His funeral took place at Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was co-pastor.
On June 30, 1974, his mother, Alberta Williams King, was shot and killed while she sat at the organ in Ebenezer Baptist Church. Following his wife’s death in 1975, Rev. King, Sr. resigned after 44 years as pastor of Ebenezer. “Daddy King” as he was affectionately called, died on Nov. 11, 1984 of a heart attack. He was 84 years of age.
On Sept. 20, 1958, Dr. King Jr. was stabbed in the chest by woman named Izola Curry, who was alleged to be mentally deranged. The stabbing occured in Harlem, N.Y. while King was autographing his book Stride Toward Freedom. Had he sneezed he would have died, it is said. After release from the hospital, Coretta suggested they accept the invitation of Prime Minister of India, Jawaharl Nehru to visit India. King was a great admirer of Mohandas Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolence, so he recuperated from the stabbing by visiting India.
Currently his wife, Coretta, is recovering from a stroke, suffered last summer.
Dr. King was smart. He attended Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high scores on the college entrance exam in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and 12th grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of 15. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in sociology. That fall he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Penn. (Source: King Center)
Chicago connection tidbits: Rev. Al Sampson, pastor of Fernwood Baptist Church was ordained by Dr. King; Marion Brooks, NBC Channel 5 news anchor had Dr. King’s sister Christine Ferris as one of her professors at Spelman; in 1966, Dr. King and his wife rented an apartment on Chicago’s West Side; funeral home owner Spencer Leak often drove for Dr. King when he was in Chicago; WVON has historical tapes of Dr. King taking calls from the community on Wesley South’s On Target talk show.
We celebrate his birthday, but Dr. King was more than a man who made one famous speech. He was a vital figure in America, and he stirred the conscience of a entire generation. He gave hope to black and white alike. Even the poor felt dignity when King stood up and galvanized people from around the country. One of his famous quotes is something we all can think about: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”