Wednesday 14 October 2015

Martin Luther King Sr.: A Sixth Grade Education and a Pair of Shoes

Martin Luther King Sr. left Stockbridge, Georgia with nothing but a sixth grade education and a pair of shoes.  Within a decade, he would head up the Ebenezer Street Baptist Church.  By 1964, his son would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Baptized Michael King, he was one of ten children raised in rural Georgia.  Life was not easy for the young Michael who witnessed a lynching as well as his drunken father beating his mother.  Early on, he realized the importance of hard work and an education.

Michael followed his sister to Atlanta where he worked odd jobs and started preaching as a lay preacher.  At Ebenezer Baptist Church, he met Rev. Williams who encouraged him to "overcome his educational limitations".  He started courting the minister's daughter, Alberta, who encouraged him to enrol in Bryant Prep School followed by a two year stint at Dillard University.

The couple married and three children followed in quick succession.  All the while, Michael pursued his Bachelor of Theology degree which he received shortly thereafter.  In 1931, Rev. Williams passed away and Michael was appointed the new senior pastor at Ebenezer Street Baptish Church.  Three years later, Michael attended the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin.  There, he learned about Martin Luther and his work with the Protestant Reformation, inspiring him to change his name to Martin Luther King, and his son's name to Martin Luther King Jr.

Returning home from Germany, King Sr. realized that Jim Crow still reigned in the South.  Visiting a shoe shop with his son, he was asked to change seats with a white person.  Explained Martin Luther King Jr.:  "This was the first time I had seen my dad so furious.  That experience revealed to me at a very early age that my dad had not adjusted to the system, and he played a great part in shaping my conscience.  I still remember walking down the street as he muttered:  'I don't care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.'"

King Sr. was true to his word.  After a vicious attack on blacks in the Atlanta bus system in the 1920's, King Sr. refused to ride the buses anymore.  Later, he headed up the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP where he continued to champion the cause of education, securing equal pay for black teachers.  In the 1960s, King Sr. continued to buck the system, riding the whites only elevator to the top floor of the city hall where he pushed for black voting rights.

King Sr. travelled to Oslo in 1964 to see his son, Martin Luther King Jr., receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  "As M. L. stood receiving the Nobel Prize, and the tears just streamed down my face, I gave thanks that out of that tiny Georgia town, I'd been spared to see this and so much else." (

Martin Luther King Sr., at right, and his son, Martin Luther King Jr. at left courtesy

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