PSALM 34:17-18 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Several years ago, I became friends with Martin Luther King, III after a chance encounter with him as he passed through Memphis. He invited me to come to Atlanta to tour the King Center, and it was there that I was introduced to the incredible, rich history of the King family. As a Memphian, I was eight years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. My perspective of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement was shaped by my own “white southern world” and the impact it had on me as a child.
I was 50 when I toured the King Center, much has changed in the country since I was eight, much has changed in my understanding and in my heart of my southern world, but nothing in the history books or my experiences taught me the lessons and insights I would learn from my visit with Martin.
Martin spent much of his time talking not about his father, but of his grandparents Martin Luther King, Sr., Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, known as “Daddy King” to his congregation, and his grandmother affectionately known as “Bunch.” We toured the parsonage of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the childhood home of Dr. King and the hub of the King family life.
It was the life and love story of Daddy King and Bunch that introduced me to the African- American experience in America in the 1920s and ‘30s. Bunch was the daughter of Rev. A.D. Williams, Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church; Daddy King was the son of a sharecropper in rural Georgia who moved to Atlanta to obtain the education required to be a preacher. They married, built a family, built a church, fought for Civil Rights in the 1930s and ‘40s in Atlanta, and made it their mission to teach and prepare their children to take the fight for civil rights to the rest of America.
Daddy King and Bunch lost their son to that fight; Martin lost a father to that fight. Daddy King lost a wife to that fight when in June of 1974 an African-America man walked into Ebenezer Baptist and killed Bunch as she was playing the organ for Sunday morning services. When I first met Martin, he shared the story of the death of his grandmother, explaining that much of his ministry was shaped by the fact that a white man killed his father, and a black man killed his grandmother. He made the statement that, “he can either hate all white and black men or he can recognize that there are evil men of both races. Martin shared what Daddy King did after the death of Bunch, he called the family together, and preached that no matter what someone does to you, there is never reason to hate.
Ambassador Andrew J. Young, in his introduction to Rev. Martin Luther King Sr.’s autobiography, Daddy King, shared with us what he witnessed as the King family gathered after the death of Bunch. He quotes Daddy King:
I know it’s hard to understand, but we have to give thanks for what we have left. God wants us to love one another and not hate. His grandchildren were asking the questions that Job asked, and Daddy King was answering them with the faith of the prophets. Daddy King led everybody in prayer, then said to them, ‘Now get out of here, and remember: Don’t ever stoop so low that you let anybody make you hate.’
The message of Daddy King is a message that we all need to hear and strive to practice. That doesn’t mean that change doesn’t need to happen, in fact improvement and change is the measure of success in all of us. In the Youth Impact writing series, Langston Myers writes about her cousin Shelley Collier whose life was devoted to young people, coaching them to improve and overcome difficulties. Lesley Harris Colvett writes about the love Sheriff’s Deputy Vernon Greer has for his role as a police escort for Carnival Memphis, as they reach out to help those in need.
The cover of the magazine was actually printed in the July issue of 4Memphis as part our monthly highlight of the artwork of David Lynch as he captures moving and unique images of Memphis on canvas. The nation’s recent focus on unfortunate deaths as a result of police officers has highlighted the continued mistrust of police departments in certain urban communities. This struggle was brought to Memphis as protestors occupied the I-40 Bridge to draw attention to their frustrations. We chose to run David Lynch’s painting to highlight the success of the Memphis Police Department and the protestor’s ability to work through the tension and mistrust while exercising their Constitutional Right to protest. Daddy King devoted his life to equality while dogmatically insisting to never hate. I believe he would have been proud of Memphis, the city where his son gave his life to further the cause of equality without hate.
Seek the Peace and Prosperity of Memphis,
Publisher’s Note: I have purchased and given away dozens of copies of Daddy King on Amazon.com for as little as $2.00. The book is no longer in print, and while I am glad to be able to purchase them, it saddens me that every copy I have purchased is a copy that been pulled from a public or school library. This great work of American history should be required reading for every student attending school in America.