Most people know the amazing stories about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They know about his most famous speech, his legendary marches and some of the principals by which he lived his life. What most people do not know is what happened to his family. There are stories about the numerous tragedies endured by the Kennedy family, but after reading this, you might know that the King family gave nearly everything in order to make the world a better place.
Shortly after Dr. King’s death in 1968, Martin’s brother Alfred became co-pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his father and brother preached. In July of 1969, just a few days before his 39th birthday, Alfred was found dead in a swimming pool in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The case was ruled as an accidental drowning, but many speculate something more sinister might have happened. According to his father, he was a good swimmer.
Alberta King, Dr. King’s mother, was shot and killed in 1974 while playing the organ at her church. The shooting was allegedly done by a 23-year old black man by the name of Marcus Wayne Chenault. Chenault didn’t give any reason for the shooting, except to say that “all Christians are my enemies.”
Martin’s father, who was his greatest inspiration long before he learned from the teachings of Gandhi, lived a long life, dying at the age of 84. Martin Luther King Sr. was the kind of black man who should be leading every household: He was strong, disciplined and believed intensely in the value of education. Most importantly, he taught his son that his greatness should not be used to simply make himself rich, but instead, it was to be used to empower his community by fighting for justice and equality.
The trauma endured by the King family is just one indicator of the sacrifices made by those who have fought for the freedom of African Americans over the last 400 years. Ever since the first runaway slave had the courage to try to get off the plantation, we’ve learned that the battle for equality is not glamorous, easy or rewarding. We also know that our people will never advance if we accept the handicaps of ignorance, greed, or other forms of self-destruction.
Finally, we know that the best way to celebrate the work of Dr. King is not to simply march in his honor and attend King Day parades every year. It is to commit ourselves to the fight against racism, poverty and other forms of inequality in every way we see fit. In other words, we must be as radical and dedicated as he was, and never give in to mediocrity in our individual or collective lives.