In January, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. for his important contribution to human rights in this country and in the world. His life was an exercise in incredible bravery, because to take a stand in behalf of equal rights for blacks was dangerous, and he knew it. He was not a perfect man, but, as a Bible scholar, he also knew that God uses imperfect men (and women) for good purposes. (King David and Queen Esther are just two examples.)
People who study human behavior report that we are all influenced most by the parent of the same sex. Martin Luther King, Jr. had as good a role model as any boy could have. His father, better known as “Daddy King,” was a man big in stature and strength, but even bigger in character. I met him later in life, but my former classmate, Buddy Jordan, met both father and son when Buddy was a boy during WWll. Buddy’s family was living in Montgomery, Alabama at that time, and Daddy King worked for his father.
Buddy remembers one Christmas during the war when both his family, and his father’s employees were celebrating without expecting much. The children’s treat was being allowed to grab for apples in a large barrel with its top off. The kids could keep as many as they could bring up on their first try. Buddy thought he had done well when he managed to bring four up, but his face fell when young Martin, who was seven years older, somehow managed to bring up three more than Buddy had.
Daddy King had a reputation of being the strongest man in those parts, but some tricksters wanted to bring down his reputation. Part of King’s job was to remove barrels and wooden boxes of products from rail cars of the trains bringing goods into Montgomery. To defeat the older King, these men nailed a barrel to the floor of the rail car, and demanded that King pick it up. It required great effort, but King, Senior, gave it his all, and pulled up the barrel with the floor boards still attached. This must surely have impressed his son, who may not have had his father’s physical size and strength, but as an adult, certainly did share his father’s spiritual strength and
I never met Martin Luther King, Jr, but did meet his father after moving to Atlanta. I was attending a meeting at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both Kings had preached, and his mother played the organ. It is a historic brick church on Auburn Avenue, which attracts a good bit of foot traffic. As I entered the church at twilight, Daddy King was standing on the sidewalk outside, greeting those passing by after working hours. He had the benign dignity of a kindly grandfather as he engaged in conversation with young black men, and asked about their welfare.
Soon afterwards, I read a newspaper account of a less pleasant encounter Daddy King had with J.B. Stoner, an avowed, white supremist. Stoner had followed King into an elevator at the state capitol, and began taunting and insulting King, who refused to stoop to that level of discourse. Finally, he sighed and said, “Mr. Stoner. Whatever you say or do, you can’t make me hate you. Hate killed my son and hate killed my wife. I want nothing to do with hate.”
His son famously asked people not to judge others by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Having once been a school teacher, if I could give Daddy King a grade, it would be an A+ for character. How I wish we could all be as wise as Daddy King and as lacking in prejudice of any kind.