by Diane Ide
Martin Luther King, Sr. was born Michael King on December 19, 1899 in Stockbridge, GA at a time when Georgia’s Reconstruction period following the Civil War was coming to an end. Stockbridge was a railroad town surrounded by rural farmland and many who didn’t work on farms held jobs at the town’s vast rock quarry.
Michael was the eldest of nine children born to Delia Linsey and James Albert King, sharecroppers who lived on and worked multiple large farms in the Stockbridge area of Henry County owned by Rosa Lee Smith. One of those farms was off Speer Road and another was on Highway 42 encompassing the site of today’s Walmart.
Like the other black children of Stockbridge at that time, Michael attended the Rosenwald School at the site of today’s Smith-Barnes Elementary School.
Although James was not a religious man, he didn’t discourage Delia from raising her children in church. They frequented both Red Oak Methodist A.M.E.Church, Floyd Chapel Baptist Church, and Rocky Mount Baptist Church in the Stockbridge area. It was, however, at Floyd Chapel that young Michael first heard the calling to preach. It was also at Floyd Chapel that he was introduced to the influence of James Weldon Johnson, an early leader in the early NAACP and composer of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Mr. Johnson taught about civil rights at Stockbridge’s black school from 1891-1895. Michael was also inspired by the few ministers who risked speaking out against racial injustice. This is where the fire was kindled for his later involvement with the NAACP and the civil rights movement – which “Daddy King” later passed on to his son Martin, Jr. At the age of 16 Michael preached his first sermon at Floyd Chapel Baptist Church and was licensed by the ministers there in 1917. His time in Stockbridge and at Floyd Chapel set the stage for his principles and teachings.
In the Spring of 1918, Michael hopped a boxcar on a train headed north, leaving Stockbridge. He jumped off in Atlanta and joined up with his sister, Woodie, who boarded at the home of the Rev. A. D. Williams and his family. Rev. Williams was the prominent minister of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.
There Michael caught the eye of and began courting the pastor’s daughter, Alberta. Rev. and Mrs. Williams supported their future son-in-law’s ministerial aspirations and encouraged him to continue his education. During his 8-year courtship with Alberta, he worked a number of jobs – with the railroad, in an auto tire shop; loading bales of cotton; and driving a truck. During that time and by going to school at night, he graduated high school from Bryant Preparatory School in 1925. He then began preaching at several black churches around Atlanta. Michael and Alberta married on Thanksgiving Day in 1926. He attended Morehouse College and the Kings had three children: Christine; MLK, Jr.; and Alfred Daniel Williams King.
When his father-in-law suddenly died in the Spring of 1931, Michael was named pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. He continued to preach his message of social action and nonviolence. He joined the NAACP, the Atlanta Negro Voters League and the Interracial Council of Atlanta. In addition to the voting rights march, he was instrumental at integrating the Ford Motor Company and in ending the segregation of the elevators at the Fulton County Courthouse.
In 1934 Michael attended the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin and familiarized himself with the life of Martin Luther. At his grandfather’s urging, Michael L. King changed both his and his son’s name to Martin Luther King……and the rest is history.
Rev. King, Sr. certainly knew both adversity and tragedy during his life, having experienced the assassinations of both his beloved son, and his wife; yet he continued to face the world with conviction and purpose. He died on November 11, 1984 and lies in rest at South View Cemetery in Atlanta. Parents James and Delia Linsey King are buried at Stockbridge’s Rocky Mount Baptist Church Cemetery.