EXPLORING THE PLACES WHERE DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. WALKED OUT HIS LEGACY
Monday is Martin Luther King Day. What will you be doing to celebrate this day?
What do you know of this American hero; and have you checked out the facts of his life instead of just listening to the media to get your picture of him?
I’ll admit right here that I have a pet peeve concerning people and their heroes. I am bothered by people who claim to know all about someone famous, yet they have never taken the time to really explore the life and times of that person or discover the facts they THINK they know for themselves. I see that happen often with this holiday. I also see people with causes diametrically opposed to what Martin Luther King started out to do using his platform for their own bandwagon and personal gain. I don’t think he would be pleased at all.
The justice that Martin Luther King promoted had Christian values. He would not have used his personal platform to twist truths to fit a gospel that man have made up for themselves. His values came from the scriptures and they were not misinterpreted; at least not by the man himself. I think, should he return today this might be his first reminder to us. He was about freedom and equal rights; but he was also about the righteousness of God along with those freedoms and rights.
Most of us just accept what we read in the tabloids and what we hear from the media. We don’t search out the facts recorded in the history books for ourselves. That would be a particular problem for me on this holiday, being a white female who grew up in the South during a time when racial barriers were the norm. Most of what we learned from history wasn’t complete; due partially to the fact that it was still evolving. A lot of times much of the whole story was either left out or left up to the imagination. Due to this fact; some have stretched the truth; and some have covered up the truth.
In the later years of my life I decided to explore these facts concerning Dr. King for myself, and the end results of such a project have been very beneficial to me as a person. It wasn’t very hard; it merely meant putting on the old worn out shoes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and taking a walk around some of the already pretty familiar places of the south.
For me; this type of travel was eye-opening!
By doing this study as a travel feature at this much later stage of my life; I was able to uncover many more facts than I would have learned had I attended a fair and honest history class as a young girl. This was no fault of any teacher or school from my past; merely the results of a flawed culture, which I hope is quickly fading away thanks to the efforts of Dr. King and many like him. I highly recommend the exercise of actually walking down famous people’s paths and learning their history first-hand from the areas where they actually lived and played and worked and formed the themes and ideas of their lives.
Most famous people have sides to their lives that no one has ever seen or heard about; even Dr. King as famous as he has become, has portions to his legacy that are hardly even noticed by the casual observer. I deliberately looked for these little things; the things that others might not have felt important, because I feel that sometimes it is all the little things and circumstances that take us through to those big things and circumstances. I wanted to know what it was that molded and shaped this man into who he turned out to be.
Once Dr. King lived a real life in some real places and did some normal every day things. It was long before his legacy ever began to take place in our museums and newspapers and long before an American holiday was ever named in his honor. I wanted to see and know the things he did then; and I wanted to discover the places where he walked and talked to different people every day during a time when his great legacy was still forming and taking shape. I wanted to find something fresh and new and helpful for understanding what made him tick. I set out to discover who this famous American hero REALLY was, and how he came to be the man that we all respect and revere today.
There is SO MUCH about Dr. King that you will not learn in a history book; and that is yet another reason I would encourage you to explore a few of the places I’m going to mention next. These are the very places that will teach you some REAL details you might never learn otherwise or elsewhere. Today as we focus on OH THE PLACES WE SHOULD GO, I want us to retrace some of the lesser known footprints of Dr. King; mostly those of his everyday life as a man not yet known for greatness. As we trace his everyday footprints; perhaps we will get a glimpse of why He did what he did that so greatly changed our world.
HOW DID DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING GET TO BE WHO HE WAS?
In order to take this journey; you need to know some of the basic elements of Dr. King’s story. I will actually start by asking you a question:
Who do you see in your mind’s eyes when you think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Is there a scene you remember, or a place, or a person he was associated with?
What stands out to you?
If I asked this question to everyday people walking down the streets today they would probably look at me like I came from another planet assuming that everyone automatically knows who this man is; then they would probably tell me that he was and still is known as one of the most famous civil rights leaders that ever lived. I get that; and that would be an accurate statement; but I’m looking for the details of why that is so. I don’t think people truly understand all of those reasons, and I didn’t either to be honest. So; this is where my exploration of his history begins.
How did he get to be who he was?
What do you REALLY know of his early days?
Do you have all of the accurate facts?
Maybe you know something from all of the museums scattered across the country; but did you grasp it all, or like me; did you just gather a few of the little tid-bits of information from vague edited newscasts of the past and from just listening to the main repeated sentences that were constantly repeated in your ears by certain groups of people year after year?
What if there was more?
What if some of what you had heard was wrong?
Here is a funny fact regarding accuracy; you would be surprised at how many people say Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised either in Birmingham, Alabama or Montgomery, Alabama. Sure, he had a lot of history in those places; but come on folks; that statement is SO VERY false! He isn’t associated with his actual birthplace in the general public as much as you would think.
Let’s set the record straight as we begin our journey through some of the places where he lived his very early life.
A VISIT TO THE MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
450 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30331 (404) 331-5190
Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929. He actually grew up in the state of Georgia. He was born and raised in Atlanta. His grandfather was a Baptist Minister, his father was a Baptist minister, and he followed right along in their footsteps and became a Baptist minister too.
You can tour the birth home where Dr. King lived the first twelve years of his life if you visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. Tours of the birth home are conducted by a park ranger and the tour lasts about 30 minutes. They take people on a first-come-first-served basis, and you cannot make reservations ahead of time. You sign up for the tour and wait your turn, but while you are waiting you may visit all the other parts of the walking tour in the national park.
The first tour of his birth home starts at 10 a.m. and the last tour starts at 4 p.m. Be prepared to wait several hours for your tour. Sometimes it is easier to visit earlier in the day, early in the week or on a Sunday morning. The site is open every day of the year except for major holidays. The home was temporarily closed for repairs in 2017; but should have reopened by now.
Here you can learn a lot about the place where Dr. King lived out his younger years. The most fascinating part of the whole experience to me is getting to learn about a lot of the people in his life that you do not always hear about in the history books.
It is wonderful to take the Walk of the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame located along the promenade leading up to the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. There are embedded 2’ x’ 2’ granite markers featuring the actual footstep impressions of civil and human rights icons such as Rosa Parks, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Congressman John Lewis and many others.
Each year there are many events planned around the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday at this historic national park. One exciting thing that is happening is the exhibit and sale of Coretta Scott King’s book called “My Life, My Love, My Legacy.” You can purchase this book and learn much more about the man himself from the person who lived closest to him; his loving wife. There will be book-signings conducted in The King Center where you will find the most extensive library and archives of all the information ever discovered regarding the life of Dr. King.
Coretta King died in 2006 from breathing complications caused by ovarian cancer. She was the first African-American woman ever who had her body carried by a horse-drawn carriage to Georgia State Capitol and laid out in honor. Over 16,000 mourners paid their respects to her as they filed past her casket. She was then laid to rest next to her husband in a crypt on the grounds of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Four former presidents of the United States came along with their wives to her funeral which lasted four eight hours. Her daughter gave the eulogy .
Outside there is a beautiful reflecting pool where you may sit and let your mind absorb some of the facts you will be taking in at this place. You may also go and visit the final resting place of Dr. King and his beloved wife Coretta Scott King. There is a lovely rose garden that expresses Dr. King’s love and respect for the teachings of Gandhi.
This tour confirms all that I have read regarding how Dr. King was highly influenced by the characters of his parents and his grandparents. They all lived together in the house that can be toured at this park. His father was a minister of The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (you can tour the church at this park too) and his Mother was a school teacher. His father was fondly called “Daddy King” by most of the family members and many of their friends.
The influence of his parents and grandparents early in his life anchored him in becoming the man we all know today. This, one of our first solid facts from Dr. King’s early years, should speak loudly to all of us! Think of all the poverty, crime and hate that are sometimes associated with many sections of the black population in America. What made Dr. King so different? I think it had a lot to do with the fact that his parents and grandparents set high standards both for their own lives and the life that they hoped for him. They shine forth as amazing examples to any race or culture and speak for the quality of adults who give their children a chance for a good life by teaching them integrity and courage and right from wrong.
For Dr. King much of those lessons on integrity came straight from the teachings about the Gospel of Jesus Christ expounded daily from his father and his grandfather as well as his mother and grandmother in their home. This is one link of Dr. King’s past that carried through three generations of good men and women. It was a very strong and solid foundation. It is one of the things that I most admire about the life of Dr. King. He is proof that a good, solid, godly home can make a difference that the whole world will know.
This was my first clue as to why the real man turned out the way he did, and I definitely wanted to see what had become of the church where all three of these men delivered their sermons.
EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Ebenezer Baptist Church has been the spiritual home to many people.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized there as a child. At the age of 19 he gave a trial sermon to the congregation and afterwards they ordained him as a minister. In 1960 he became co-pastor alongside of his father in that church. Martin Luther King, Jr. cherished this position and never gave up his office there. His funeral was held in this church in 1968.
The church began to be lovingly restored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Park back in 2001 through a Save American’s Treasures Grant. The church live streams their sermons from their website, so even if you are not able to go visit; you may listen to the Word of God from that establishment. Each Sunday the members there welcome hundreds of visitors who stop by to experience the history of this place. The doors are open to all. Their ministry is urban based and global. They are dedicated to individual growth and social transformation through living in the message and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.
This is how Dr. King came to have his religious beliefs as a young boy growing up in Atlanta. The same experience is there for your child too. I think Dr. King would be pleased to know of all the things happening at Ebenezer Baptist Church today.
THREE KINGS GROWING TOGETHER
It was very evident that all three of these men named King shared great integrity which they passed on to the next generation; and all three of them formed their higher educational experiences and ideas at the same college, which leads me to the next portion of my journey to find out who Dr. King really was even before he became famous and well known for many things that changed our world.
We have covered his boyhood at home; now let’s think about his early education.
Dr. King was educated in the public segregated schools of Atlanta, Georgia.
He began elementary school at Yonge Street Elementary School at five, but was told to come back later because he needed to be six!
He then went on to attend David T. Howard Elementary School, then The Atlanta University Laboratory School.
He attended Booker T. Washington High School, and went from there directly on to college. He scored very high in his testing for college; so after his junior year of high school he was allowed to go on to enter college instead of finishing his senior year.
Dr. King started his college education at Moorehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia; which was the same all-black college attended by his father and grandfather. He entered early due to such high test scores in high school and having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the very young age of fifteen.
830 Westview Drive SW, Atlanta GA 30314 (404) 681-2800
So it did seem logical to me on this quest to know about the roots of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that we would do well to visit his old college campus. We SHOULD go to Moorehouse College on this little journey today. It is not located at The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic site; so we will have to drive a short distance to see it; but tours are possible.
The campus is located in Atlanta at 830 Westview Drive SW, and they are happy to give you a guided tour. Tours are conducted on Monday through Friday except on holidays and during college testing periods, so come on – let’s take a peek inside this historically black private men’s college campus and see what we can see:
The tour of the campus lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes. The students of the Morehouse College Ambassador Team conduct the tours. It is best to go to the Morehouse website and make a reservation ahead of time. They are pretty strict about females visiting the campus unannounced and for no reason; explain your purpose if, like me; you happen to be in those circumstances. The scheduled tours are mostly for interested students and their parents and they are about obtaining general information and walking through the outside of the college buildings and campus.
If you wish to go inside the buildings of the campus you must register as a campus visitor and receive information on the self-guided tour. Sign in at the Office of Admissions for the self-guided tour. The Morehouse website also has a convenient campus map that can be downloaded ahead of time so that you will know what to expect.
There is a lot to see!
For the general tour of the outside buildings, including The Martin Luther King Chapel; start your tour at the Morehouse College Visitor’s Center located at the lower level of The Morehouse College Parking Deck.
You will always find some amazing events going on for the community at Morehouse College during the week of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. They will definitely be celebrating Dr. King’s life and legacy. Their whole celebration in 2017 actually lasted for three weeks! It included seven events which highlighted King and his peaceful crusade for racial equality. There was also the new addition of another exhibit added to The National Center for Civil and Human Rights during that celebration. The exhibit was called “Martin Luther King, Jr. and Morehouse College: The Making of the Man.” This exhibit spans King’s undergraduate years at Morehouse and focuses on the close connections he maintained with his alma mater throughout his life. Of special interest was a feature called the “Voice to the Voiceless Gallery” at 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.
I started the tour with many questions in my mind that I hoped would be answered.
Just what is left of Morehouse College today?
Is it still the same college that Dr. King, his father and his grandfather attended?
Does it still have those same qualities that helped to shape a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into a national hero?
This will be part of our journey as we honor him – to look back; then forward at Morehouse College. Let’s begin our journey and let’s find out for ourselves what was and is still going on there.
The first thing I learned about Morehouse was a huge surprise to me. Though Dr. King fought to de-segregate the races; it seems that Morehouse is still a private male college famously known for being an educational facility exclusively for black men, though it is made plain to anyone inquiring that they are still interested in diversity and open to taking white students or students that are not black; yet, they are still, for the most part, a black college, and that predominantly black college is made up of only a male population.
This struck me as very odd and ironic; although everything else I read and learned about the college was very impressive and superior in every way.
That it was a college which seemed to place a lot of importance on ethnicity was at first disturbing to me. Being a white woman; I had to take a closer look at what goes on there in order to gain more comfort with the institution.
Despite this first disturbing fact; I was still very impressed with the quality this campus harbored behind its expansive walls. I quickly learned that there is a reason for having no females; the women who are interested in such an institute are encouraged to check out Spelman College, the part of the program that is devoted to the quality education of women.
Morehouse College has quite a legacy.
I first noticed this by thinking about the many campus buildings and the men’s names that had been placed upon them. Most of the famous names were men who were former presidents of the university and/or names of people who stood out in history. What amazing and astounding histories they all have! One common trait in all of the famous men who taught and administered the business of this college seemed to be the fact that they devoted their lives to excellent knowledge and learning. They never quit earning more degrees as they went on through life; many of these degrees from very high formal institutes such as Harvard and Yale and other such well known institutions.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was only one of the many legacies that began their early years at Morehouse. MANY fine black men graduated and began their distinguished and very professional lives from Morehouse. Among that list is: David Satcher, a 1963 graduate who went on to become United States Surgeon General; Maynard Jackson, the 1956 graduate who went on to be the first African American Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia who has also been honored by the re-naming of the Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International Airport among other things; and then there is Donn Clendenon, the New York Mets first-baseman who became a World Series MVP in 1969; and Shelton “Spike” Lee a 1979 Graduate of Morehouse who became an American film director, producer, writer and actor. His production company called 40 Acres And A Mule has produced over 35 films since 1983.
All of these men who left their footprints in American history, with all of these wonderful accomplishments, are black graduates from Morehouse.
In 2008 though, a strange thing happened at Morehouse College; a young white man named Joshua Packwood graduated as valedictorian that year; and the most interesting thing about Packwood was not the fact that he was a white Rhodes scholar who could have received a full scholarship to Columbia; but it was the fact that he picked Morehouse over any other college.
Because he admired the facts that he knew of Morehouse, and because they, staying true to their own integrity; did not deny him entrance! Packwood wasn’t trying to stand out or set records; he was simply attending the college of his choice. Somehow I think Dr. King would have been pleased with this fact that a white man chose to join in with his alma mater simply because of its reputation for producing leadership; regardless of race, solely based on integrity. Yes! I think Dr. King would have loved that; but it is just my own personal opinion.
Now Mr. Peterson’s younger brother, also white, has attended Morehouse, and there are other white men considering going against the grain and not thinking about race at all; but just considering what the college has to offer to any ambitious young man who wants to be the best he can be.
Isn’t that, after all, a part of the dream that Dr. King had all along?
So what do you think Dr. King gained as a young undergraduate in his studies at Morehouse that taught him to be the leader that we all have admired and adored?
It could be one of many qualities that the college is known for; such as the excellent liberal arts education they provide that is conducive to academic, social and spiritual growth. Or maybe it was the intriguing process of becoming a part of what they call the “Morehouse Mystique” a phenomenon which is said to be famous for joining the brotherhood like none other. Or maybe it was their claim to developing leaders that go out and change the world! Dr. King certainly proved that part of his education. Perhaps Dr. King was impressed by the words of the leadership at Morehouse College which proclaim that “becoming a leader is not about attaining the right title or position but about obtaining skills such as compassion, civility, integrity and even learning to listen.”
Those traits were certainly lived out in Dr. King’s way of life. It is probably a safe bet to think that Dr. King was impressed with the Morehouse ability to develop ethical leadership that is spiritually disciplined, intellectually astute and morally wise.
In Dr. King’s day, and right up to the present moment; that is still the goal of what alumni and students of Morehouse fondly call “The House.” I would encourage anyone wanting to know more about Dr. King to look at the events listed on the Morehouse website during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday period of time. They are all exciting events that portray his history and life goals in so many different and artistic ways. You may wish to attend one event or all of them.
Yes, traveling back to his early educational experiences; I think Dr. King would still be pleased with what is going on at Morehouse College; but let’s move on with the years that he was obtaining his formal education.
CROZER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY IN CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA
Dr. King graduated from Morehouse in 1948 with a B.A. degree in Sociology. After Morehouse, the next step for him was Crozer Theological Seminary located in Chester, Pennsylvania. Crozer would have been just the opposite in ethnicity compared to his Morehouse days, being that most of his senior classmates at that school were white. While he was at Crozer Dr. King also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected president of his senior class and delivered the valedictory address. He won the Pearl Plafker Award for the most outstanding student, and he received the J. Lewis Crozer fellowship for graduate study at a university of his choice. He was awarded a bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer in 1951
Currently, Crozer Seminary, where Dr. King received further training for the ministry, has now merged with other institutions in Rochester New York; but back when Dr. King was attending, classes were held in The Old Pennsylvania Building. The school actually started out as a military hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil war. A man named Crozer owned the property and allowed and encouraged this use of it. When he died, and the war was over, Crozer’s son turned the building into housing for a seminary for young ministers.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. enrolled there on September 14, 1948 and graduated on May 8, 1951 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He then studied and earned his doctorate at Boston University.
While at Crozer Dr. King was drawn to the school’s unorthodox reputation and liberal theological teachings. Some of these theologies were quite unlike the typical Baptist theology of the day. There he strengthened his already developed commitment to the Christian Social Gospel, and there he developed his initial interest in Gandian ideas.There he was first exposed to pacifism (the belief in peaceful resolutions to conflict) and there he developed ideas about nonviolence as a method of social reform.
I tried to piece together the portions of these topics that fascinated Dr. King and associate them with all that happened to him at later dates in his life.
The Social Gospel was a movement that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially those of social justice. It addressed economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environments, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the dangers of wars. Theologically, it was based on a line from The Lord’s Prayer; “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I feel it is quite a twist, but this theology generally taught that Christ could not return to earth the second time until humankind learned to rid itself of social evils by human efforts. Most of the ministers preaching that message during that time were associated with the liberal wing of the Progressive Movement.
I’m going to be honest here and express the opinion of one who grew up during times of change and all of its horrible confusions. Though I have great respect for Dr. King and think he was a tremendous leader who accomplished amazing things for the world; I personally think this aspect of Dr King’s teachings could be said to be the stumbling block where many great men of his day, though agreeing with his basic concepts for change, often disagreed with his theology behind the reason for the change. Often their disagreement in theology appeared to be racial discrimination when it was actually theological disagreement.
Often those who opposed King were NOT racist; but men who considered the fact that history was not in man’s hands, but in the hands of God alone. They did not believe the social gospel’s message. They trusted that the grace of Christ allowed for humanity to live together in brokenness and imperfections while still striving toward sainthood with God’s help.
Many were very afraid of the Progressive party’s influence on Dr. King, and they considered his gospel to be a first step toward humanism instead of Christianity. I do NOT think that was Dr. King’s intention; but I can see how this conclusion might be reached. That didn’t make it okay for such people who disagreed in theology to be turning their heads to the day’s very bad situations. I’m not saying that was correct either. I’m just explaining some of the original facts that a lot of people might have overlooked and most of the media will not bring up.
In other words; many good people who were not racist thought what King wanted, (racial equality and social justice and a better life for EVERYONE) was absolutely right; but they feared his means for attaining those things through the use of the social gospel was wrong and based on a flawed interpretation of the holy scriptures. In Dr. King’s favor, we do see this fact being less and less evident in his later years when he was taken with the “love” issues involving non-violent resistance. I think that Dr. King’s heart might have grown beyond the aspects of the flaws of the social gospel; but nevertheless, that is how his techniques started out and they are very evident when you look at the history. There are still people today who totally agree with King’s motivations and basic philosophies; but disagree with the “progressive” means of bringing them about. There are progressive leaders today who are labeling and profiling other races and people groups in order to promote their own profit and gain. They use Dr. King’s name; but do the opposite of what he lived and taught.
I have to wonder how many issues might have been solved earlier if King had just stuck to his original Baptist theology or even the simple gospel in general, but left out the social gospel aspect of the equation. I wonder if he had that to do all over again if he might consider such a thing? It is hard to say at this point. We will never know his thoughts on this.
King wasn’t the only religious leader guilty of this; there were quite a few using the social gospel as a means to an end, either for political and social reasons or for financial gain. I guess the thought was to use whatever worked with the culture at the time; but the ideology of socialism in the name of God was NOT appalling to many members of the more conservative religious congregations of the day; especially many white congregations who had fought against socialism and communism in previous wars of the past. This was a wall that was very hard to break down. It WASN’T ALL about race, but much of the debate was about perspective. Your history books will leave that conversation out of the records.
Though these progressive ideas of Dr. King’s brought about many desirable social changes longed for by both sides of the fence; the movement toward humanism and Christian Socialism was very undesirable for the majority of conservative southerners. That isn’t to say that there were not some horrible racist leaders in that day also who DID form their opinions and actions based on pure hate. I am speaking for the people living opposite to that who were looking on with a different theological view. Both parties played into the problems for progress here. There WAS definitely that group that had to always raise their ugly heads and condemn everyone else in the process. The Ku Klux Klan was definitely a racist hate-group that was constantly stirring up problems, not only for the black people, but also for the righteous white people living peacefully in the land. This mix of opposition made the walls between people that had to be torn down so much harder to topple. Dr. King was a master at navigating through such situations. He was definitely reading the pulse of the times and acting accordingly.
It was hard for many of the religious leaders of the day who were NOT racists to speak against his theology without appearing to be racist. Perhaps the Civil Rights movement would have been more peaceful and less violent had all of this been taken into consideration. Who can say? Hindsight is 20/20. It was such a multi-faceted puzzle of things and concepts and ideas that I don’t think many of our greatest thinkers could even begin to put it all into words at the time. Dr. King came the closest and touched the heart-strings of so many with his passion. Still, even many members of the social gospel movement disagreed among themselves from time to time on some of the strongest issues of the day.
The Social Gospel that Dr. King came to embrace while at Crozer was not a unified or well-focused movement, and it was often wide-open to individual interpretations. Because the unfocused progression of the movement was such a problem, a man named Rauschenbusch had developed a systematic system for better promoting the social gospel. Martin Luther King became involved with this theological push which basically stated that the Kingdom of God which Christ spoke about had been gradually replaced by the organization of the church. Thus peddlers of this theology began to use the organization of the church as a tool to change the world.
Frankly, finding out all of this part of the history was disturbing to me. My hero’s halo was a little diminished in my mind, though I still strongly admired his great accomplishments, his passion and his drive for the better good. I considered all the leaders throughout history who had tried to use religion to change the world. Only God can do that effectively; just ask Alexander The Great or Constantine. They both could have enjoyed a few conversations with our local hero. Unfortunately; he did not have their hindsight as a guide. The “Greek” way of ruling the world seems to have a lot of parallels and negative comparisons to the subject of “social justice.” In the end of each case; it is the changed hearts of people that win the day; not a certain systematic theology. I stay a strong proponent of faith over religion, and individuality over corporate organizations. I feel this way because when I look back at others who tried these techniques, I can see that by the time they had finished with their campaigns the pure scriptures and the true gospel had always been distorted in some way.
However, many good things sprung from what I consider to be a somewhat twisted theology and ideology. Dr. King’s faith in God was always there; and God works together in all things for the good of all always. Help became available for helpless immigrants. We began to see healthcare instituted for the needy as well as the rich. (Unfortunately, this seems to have been destroyed, or at least injured by Dr. King’s greedy predecessors.) We saw some improvement to slum neighborhoods. We saw daycare provisions come into being, the beginning of the YMCA, some employment bureaus, summer camps and better schools and educational opportunities for all levels of society. We saw English classes being offered for those not speaking the native language as well as better labor laws and new unions that came to be important to the betterment of many workers. We saw workman’s compensation created and all people everywhere were encouraged to register and vote in the elections.
After all of these original social changes came the 1950’s; which brought Dr. King’s era of even more social changes which included the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these wonderful changes came from leaders that basically employed what I personally consider to be the slightly-flawed thinking of the social gospel. Once again, that old scripture that says “God works all things together for good” comes to mind here. Though I personally disagree with pieces of the philosophy of the social gospel; I can still see the good heart and well-intentioned righteousness of Dr. King shinning through all that he accomplished. The tenderness for the poor and down-trodden humans of all races was evident in all that he strived to do. He had that extra ingredient which seems to straighten out all slightly-flawed circumstances and/or philosophies; and that ingredient was called “love.” As Jesus Christ once said; love overcomes all things; even the flawed thinking of the social gospel. It seemed to be Dr. King’s love that seemed to save his integrity every time in every situation that we see at work in his most amazing life.
While the social gospel was widely promoted by the AFL (American Federation of Labor) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along came the revivalist minister named Billy Sunday who believed that organized shops (labor unions) destroyed individual freedoms. In studying all of this and seeing how the leaders of society worked in that time it becomes very clear to me and other observers looking back that some men were fighting for individual rights and some men were fighting for the collective rights of society as a whole. This often made their goals the same; and sometimes it complicated things and made their goals very different. Each battleground had its own problems and hurdles when it came to the issues of race and equality. Often these two groups of people collided and disagreed among themselves and instead of achieving both goals by fighting together they often tore themselves apart. At any rate; this tool of using the social gospel as a way of achieving political and social goals seemed to grow stronger with Dr. King during the days he attended Crozer.
While in seminary Dr. King attended a 1950 lecture about the philosophy of the great Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. This motivated him to study the theories of Gandhi more. He was intrigued with the concept of satyagraha which translates into English as “”truth-force/or love-force.” Gandhi’s non-violence teachings seemed to jell with King’s own thoughts and ideas. King melded these ideas with the concepts of non-violent resistance. He had actually studied this earlier at Morehouse while reading Henry David Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience. He became convinced that these things could succeed as long as they were based on love. As time moved on Dr. King developed the link between Gandhi and the civil rights movement. These things became evident to King in his formal studies but he did not actually begin to carry out his theories until much later.
You cannot see where King studied at Crozer today; as the campus has evolved and changed and the old building is actually a medical facility. The things that happened there are important though; so I have tried to do this journey from imagination; piecing all that we can into the puzzle before moving on.
233 BAY STATE ROAD, BOSTON, MA (617( 353-2300
In 1951 Dr. King began his doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University. He also spent some time studying at Harvard University. His dissertation was titled “A Comparison of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wierman.” This was completed in 1955 and the Ph.D. was awarded on June 5, 1955.
It was during these years at Boston University that Howard Thurman was named the first black Dean of a predominantly white university. He became Dean of the university’s Marsh Chapel. Through his sermons and activities Thurman lead what he called “The Search for Common Ground, ” an intercultural dialog that helps people to discover what they share, rather than what draws them apart. That dialog is still alive and well on the campus at Boston University. It has turned into a year long program that starts with a community building experience during the freshman orientation. Throughout the year it continues with receptions, seminars, discussions and presentations, involving students of all races, religions and ethnic groups. If you have the opportunity to visit Boston University be sure to check out The Howard Thurman Center.
Was this good or bad for Dr. King’s life?
I’m not really sure how to answer that. I could start by pointing the obvious elephant in the room. Gandi’s religion was Hindu; therefore his thoughts were from the perspective of the Hindu religion. Dr. King claimed to be Christian. You cannot live by Hindu practices and still remain true to the God of Christianity. However; it is good to love and accept all people in Christianity. I think the desire to understand and love all cultures and peoples was so true to Dr. King’s heart. The basic concept of universal love should become first nature and truth to all of our hearts if we ever intend to realize Dr. King’s dream and/or become great witnesses to the One God of the Universe.
On the other hand ;I also wonder if Dr. King had concentrated more on understanding God’s whole plans for the universe; if more progress might have been achieved. People facing one another with love and acceptance is certainly a good and wonderful thing. Sharing each culture’s flaws and mistakes in religion and government and accepting them at face value doesn’t seem to be so good to me. I can see where some negativity crept into the purity of racial equality and civil rights here.
Instead of forming more correct and higher standards we tended to stoop to doing something different and considering that just because it was “different” than the social gospel; that it was better. I think Dr. King was so enamored with the correct “love” aspect of this culture that he did not look beyond that aspect to what could evolve if not carefully guarded and nourished with pure truth. Perhaps this was Dr. King’s silent attempt to change the wrong aspects of the social gospel and push it into another direction and dimension. The only way to know this is to ask Dr. King in eternity. It is purely human speculation on my part; and many would disagree. Who am I to speculate about the thoughts of such a great man? I do so only for the sake of learning higher things in an attempt to walk better in his footsteps and try to make his dream come true. We must never stop considering the truths that are right; that work better for humanity. I think that was the quest of Dr. King all along; and he would not disagree with my questions.
During his time in Boston King turned to Thurman as his mentor and spiritual adviser. It was Thurman who educated King in many of the ideas of nonviolent protest based on Gandhi’s thoughts and ideas. The library at Boston University today houses thousands of King’s personal papers and correspondence. On Marsh Plaza in front of the chapel you can read a sculptural tribute to Dr. King’s famous words, “Free at Last.”
In 1964 after Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize, he graciously presented his manuscripts, records and personal papers to The University’s Mugar Memorial Library.
Anyone may visit Boston University, which to this day is still a predominantly white college.
If you go there; just remember it is in an urban setting and parking is almost impossible. The easiest way to get there is to take the Massachusetts Bay Transit System (MBTA) called the “T.” It is color-coded by line. (Red, blue, orange and green.) The GREEN Line “B” train passes right through the Boston University Charles River Campus, continuing from Kenmore Square up among Commonwealth Avenue on the street level. If you get to go there; be sure to take a walk through the campus in Dr. King’s shoes and imagine as we are doing here just what his days there were like, and how he would feel about the campus if he were to stroll through it today.
DEXTER AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH, MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA
454 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama
A big huge moment in time happened for Dr. King in 1953 when he married Coretta Scott after which he committed to preach at The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. They were living here when Dr. King emerged as a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement.
It was in Montgomery that Dr. King formed the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days.) He was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities. He helped to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 while still living in Montgomery. The SCLC was eventually moved to Ebenezer Church in Atlanta. Dr. King remained a very active and busy leader here becoming the President of this Organization where he continued to make history from his time in Montgomery, then Atlanta, right up until his death in 1968.
If you ever have the opportunity, please go to visit Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. You will not be disappointed.
History definitely lives there.
A beautiful mural in the church’s basement details important civil rights events. I do think Dr. King would be pleased with the welcome committee that now exists there. This church congregation sings from the African American Heritage Hymnal. Many of the present members knew and loved Dr. King and his family. They all have stories of their association with him and all the things they did with him. Dr. King’s office still exists inside this building. It gives you a sense of where and how he wrote his sermons. Everything is perfectly preserved.
The Dexter Parsonage where the King’s lived has been turned into a museum. Here you can hear the history directly from the individuals who lived it! You can look at the building and see where the bomb landed when the house was bombed. You can see the table in the dining room that so many great minds of the day sat around and shared their ideas for a better future. You can view Dr. King’s favorite chair, the one where he often sat and prayed about the condition of our nation among other things.
While visiting Montgomery, Alabama to see The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church you might also enjoy stopping in to see the Rosa Parks Museum.
THE ROSA PARKS MUSEUM
252 Montgomery Street, Montgomery, Alabama 36104 (334) 241-8615
Rosa Parks has certainly earned her place as a much-loved civil rights leader.
Did you know that she had to move to another state after her time of protest and jailing because she could not find a job anywhere after the event?
We could not explore Dr. King’s story without adding her part of the legacy.
Rosa Parks was vital to the bus boycott in Montgomery, and now she has been honored by the exhibits of a lovely museum within this city of Montgomery, as well as a lot of exhibits and museums in other places.
This museum houses lots of historical information about the bus boycott in Montgomery and its results in creating a new page of history. There are some very poignant lessons to be learned from this tour. Artifacts include a restored 1955 station wagon and a replica of the public bus on which Mrs. Parks was sitting when she protested giving up her seat.
The building where the museum is housed became a major landmark in the revitalization of downtown Montgomery.
It is constructed on the site of the old Empire Theatre where Mrs. Parks made her courageous and historic stand. The museum is interpretive in style, and occupies the first floor and 7,000 square feet of a three-story building which also houses the Troy-Montgomery Campus Library. Six unique areas inside the museum tell the story of bravery and courage of the early civil rights soldiers.
One of my favorites is a wing designed especially for children where they go back in time on the Cleveland Avenue Time Machine to discover that things don’t just happen – but people make things happen. Emphasis is put on the fact that just one person can make a difference.
If you venture on to The Research Center you can hear the testimonies of the men and women who actually participated in the bus boycott.
THE BIRMINGHAM CIVIL RIGHTS INSTITUTE
520 16TH Street North, Birmingham, Alabama (205)328-9696
If you want the whole collective full story of Dr. King’s involvement in Civil Rights I would suggest you visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute located in Birmingham, Alabama.
Here you will be able to see interactive exhibits of all of the protests and marches led by Dr. King, including the bus boycott, the March from Selma to Montgomery and the March on Washington.
You will get to explore all of Dr. King’s famous speeches including the “I Have A Dream” speech given at the March on Washington, his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize and his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
You will hear the final speech at Memphis right before Dr. King’s assassination where he says “I have been to the Mountaintop!”
You can see and read his “Letter From The Birmingham Jail.”
You will become acquainted with the many other leaders who walked along side Dr. King in his later years as he formed and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences.
Most of all; you will get the full picture of the civil rights movement.
You will see a replica using the actual door of Dr. King’s cell in The Birmingham Jail where he wrote his famous letter. You will hear all about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL where four innocent little girls were killed due to racial issues going on between adults.
You will hear about The Children’s March and how effective it became in helping with civil rights, not only in Birmingham, or America but how it became a role model for people fighting for civil rights everywhere in every nation.
You will hear about the successful passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all who helped to accomplish that feat. You will hear about “Bloody Sunday” and “Turnaround Tuesday.”
All of these are very important facts in accomplishing the mission that Dr. King made his life’s goal.
Warning; take a box of Kleenex with you; because few people leave these moving exhibits without tears of sorrow for sins of the past.
There are so many more places that we could name which have documented the history of this great leader named Martin Luther King, Jr. I would also add Memphis, Tennessee to the list of historical events.
The history of the life of Dr. King goes on and on. His life is probably one of the most documented and written about heroes of our day.
There are many more places and spaces than I have shown you here; but this is definitely a way to get started in that honorable walk of following Dr. King’s footprints through history.
As you take in the amazing life of the man; just remember to walk in the love of your fellowman. Dr. King; like every true hero that ever graced the pages of history would be pleased and fell that his legacy still goes on.
When you take these journeys; I hope that you, like me; will be reminded of the fact that today is yet another opportunity to live out the dream of Dr. King. We CAN all walk together in love, peace and harmony.
It is possible!
We must hold on to that dream and begin to live it out in every community on earth. That is the greatest way that you and I can begin to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.