As we go through these days of honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the inauguration of the first African-American president, it is time for me to reflect on a man who did much to bring about the rise of these two stellar men. I met him in Atlanta some years ago. He was a humble man with a strong, low voice that could shake the rafters, but with empathy and compassion in it. He was the pastor of a then-modest red brick church near central Atlanta. His congregation loved him. His family played an important role in his ministry. I only saw him wear an old, shiny, blue business suit, worn from long and modest years in the Baptist ministry.
Some called him "Daddy King," to distinguish him from his famous son, Martin Luther King, Jr. After his son's ministry in Montgomery, Alabama, and his growing fame and recognition for his civil rights leadership, Daddy King called his son to serve with him at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. As the senior pastor, Daddy King could allow his son to be free to pursue his worldwide leadership and still have a home of employment. It worked out well. And the members of Ebenezer glowed in the spotlight of this star in their midst. Daddy King was barely known outside Atlanta. I met him shortly after meeting Martin, and it was clear to me the influence that Daddy King had on his son...very clear. Yet the world pays the father little notice.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extension of his father. The building blocks of character, moral leadership, speaking ability, and the use of truth and non-violence to lead the civil rights movement in America were laid by Daddy King. Someday I hope the world pays homage to what was given as a foundation by Daddy King, the Rev. Martin Luther King, SR. I have met world leaders, heads of state, national legislators, celebrities, leaders in the American Indian community, Congressional representatives, mayors, ad infinitum; none holds greater honor and esteem in my own mind as Daddy King. Without him there would be no Martin Luther King, Jr. And without him we probably would not be standing in the glow of our new president.
Somewhere out there is a talented biographer who should take up the life of Daddy King and give him his rightful due in American history. The humble man would not have presented himself that way, but I do. He contributed much to the fight for civil rights and the possibiities now grudgingly open to minorities. I look forward to someday seeing his life in print in a popular historical book. My old friend, just like the chants I remember from the 1960s and the civil rights leaders, "change gonna come, change gonna come."