The ‘Daddy King’ of the Civil Rights Movement
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Ebenezer Baptist’s charismatic pastor, taught his son “not to hate the white man, but that it was my duty, as a Christian, to love him.” The Reverend Martin Luther King fought segregation by riding “the Whites Only” elevator in Atlanta’s City Hall and marching against segregated water fountains. The Reverend Martin Luther King fought for equality, not just liberty, chairing the Committee on the Equalization of Teachers’ Salaries. And the Reverend Martin Luther King, aka “Daddy King,” did all this in the 1930s and 1940s, years before his son, Martin Luther King Jr., began campaigning for justice.
Sometimes, you wonder how impressive children like Bill Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt emerged, despite alcoholic fathers. By contrast, the Nobel Prize-winning younger King, known in the family as “M.L.,” so followed his father that the honorific “Daddy King” risks defining the elder King only by his more famous son. However, to the extent that the nickname reinforces Daddy King’s reputation as a guiding light of Civil Rights, it fits just right.
More than his son, who grew up in a comparatively protective cocoon, the man originally named Mike King lived the American dream. Born in 1897 in hardscrabble Stockbridge, Georgia, this grandson of slaves grew up hard. Once, his mother thrashed a white man who beat him—forcing his father, having then protected his wife with a rifle, to hide for three months until white tempers calmed. A teen preacher, King moved to the big city, Atlanta, to refine his style. He ended up with the training he sought—and more than he dared hope—marrying the daughter of one of Atlanta’s great preachers, the Reverend A.D. Williams, whose pulpit both Kings ultimately inherited...
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