The Resounding Call to Dream

January 17th, 2014

This weekend, many Americans gather to celebrate the civic holiday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. Dr. King had many ties to the American Baptist Churches/USA, graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the historic "black colleges" of our country and founded through the efforts of Henry Morehouse and the American Baptist Home Mission Society. His divinity school studies were at the American Baptist affiliated Crozer Seminary in Pennsylvania, which later merged with the Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School (CRCDS) in Rochester, NY. (An article about King's time in seminary appears here.)

King was a member of the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board (MMBB), receiving help getting his draft of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" out of that jail and into the hands of news editors thanks to an MMBB representative. After King's assassination, Coretta Scott King received widow's pension benefits for the rest of her life as well as support funds to assist the King children's college expenses. (For part of the MMBB and MLK story, see this newsletter article.)

The King legacy lives on through the commitment of those instructed and inspired to action by his teachings. Colleges and communities will have celebrations this weekend, complete with days of community service, providing hundreds of volunteer hours and for some young people, the first opportunity to connect social action with civic duty.

I will note that the King family did suffer additional tragedy after MLK's death in 1968. As a younger person, I did not grow up in the era, so I was not aware of a story of the King family from just a few years later in 1974. I shared it in a recent sermon, and I thought the story bears repeating as it testifies to the faithfulness of the entire King family in times of great challenge and personal tragedy:

Gardner Taylor, long considered the dean of African American preachers, recalls the difficult days he spent with the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. In late June 1974, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was in the midst of worship when gunshots rang out. A gunman aimed for King, yet it was Mrs. King, the church organist, who was killed in the gunfire.

As Gardner Taylor and other colleagues came from around the nation to support the King family, Taylor recalls the way the Ebenezer Church members pulled together with its singing hymns of faith, led by the choir who had been in the midst of the tragedy just a few days before. The church resonated with hymns of faith, sung in full knowledge of their loss, yet giving testimony to the beliefs that helped them make sense out of yet another tragedy in their congregation’s life.

That same week, Taylor was a visitor to the King family home. He recalls:

Midst the tall Georgia pines, in the King family home, touched with the strange stillness of death, I sat with Martin Luther King, Sr., on Tuesday evening. He bit his lips and said, “They killed Martin, [my other son] A.D. is dead, and now they’ve killed Bunch [his wife’s nickname]. “ He stopped awhile. Then he said, clutching my hand, “A.D.’s third son came to me the other day, and he said is going to preach [or, that is called to ministry].” Then he looked at me and said, “They won’t be able to kill us off.”

(From Gardner Taylor, Fifty Years of Timeless Treasures, Words of Gardner Taylor, vol. VI, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2002).

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