MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church he told his congregation he had no pretence of being a great preacher, but little did he know he would lead more than a church he would lead the civil rights movement.
WSFA 12 News Anchor Valorie Lawson went to Atlanta to view The Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. We found never before seen documents now available to the public that reveal King's mission at Dexter and his calling to the Movement that would weight heavily on this young preacher.
December 1st 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested and The Montgomery Bus Boycott was born and so was the Montgomery Improvement Association led by a newcomer to town. A Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. "He had just gotten his schooling, he got married and moved to where he was starting to build his career as a pastor and then all of this happens." A momentous movement happened that took on national and international status and it pushed King into the spotlight. Morehouse College Martin Luther King Collection Archivist Bridget Larette said the movement needed King. "It's not necessarily that he has this ambition to take these things on the Movement needed then." The need pulled King in two different directions. "I think he felt somewhat conflicted because he wanted to be a good pastor and serve his congregation and he also felt a strong need to serve the Movement."
When WSFA 12 News viewed the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Collection, we found documented signs his duties at Dexter and his responsibilities to the Movement were starting to take their toll. "Over time in the Movement, his schedule gets so crowded he has to schedule time to rest. We have carbon copies of notes from his secretary that say he can not take any more speaking engagements because he's booked for the year." said Lerette. We learned at one point he accepted more than 30 speaking engagements that took him across the country. He attended more than 100 civic and community meetings and in that same period of time he only preached at Dexter 36 times. He addressed his repeated absences at Dexter in an Annual Report dated November 1, 1955 to October 31, 1956. It said "Even when my life and the life of my family were in personal jeopardy you were at my side for all of these things, I cannot begin to thank you with words."
By the time the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended in 1956, King's home had been bombed and his family repeatedly threatened. Still, King encouraged the citizens of Montgomery to move on in a non-violent manner. In his annual address to the Montgomery Improvement Association he wrote: "This is the time that we must evince calm dignity and wise restraint. Emotions must not run wild."
A few years after a successful end to the Bus Boycott, King moved to Atlanta to become co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father has pastored. He also took on another role, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "In his Annual Address he talks about his decision and how wonderful the MIA will do without him and some of the goals he sees for it but that he needs to go further with the Movement and in order to do that he has to go to Atlanta." Lerette added.