The forgotten legacy of a King

May 1, 2018

Alberta KingApril was a momentous month, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Much has been said about his dream, but as we approach Mother’s Day there is another giant figure, although not as well known, as Dr. King, his mother, Alberta Christine Williams King.

Born in 1904 the future mother of the famous civil rights leader was the daughter of Rev. Adam Daniel Williams and Jennie Celeste Williams. Rev. Williams was pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the same church his future son in-law and yet-to-be-born grandson would pastor.
Alberta graduated from Spelman Seminary (then a high school) and finished Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute now Hampton University in 1924 with a teaching certificate. (To older alums it’s still “Hampton Institute.”)

Alberta would marry Martin Luther King Sr., (Then called Michael) in 1926. MLK, Jr. was the second of the couple’s three children. It was Alberta who had a lasting impact on her son’s outlook on life. Martin Luther King Jr’s various biographers have documented that his father didn’t want his son to have anything to do with the civil rights movement, but it was the moth-er in him who listened to the call of his people. Alberta was also a talented musician serving as choir director and organist at Ebenezer.

There is a fountain of strength mothers tap into when they are hit with indescribable grief. A mother’s love, like Jesus’ love for mankind, has no boundaries. Our mothers love us no matter what crime we are accused of committing and that fountain also gives them strength when their children are taken from them forever.

Alberta had to tap into that fountain of strength at least twice — once in 1968 when her son Martin was gunned down by a murderer while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Mo-tel in Memphis, Tennessee. A little more than a year later on July 21, 1969, a few days before his 39th birthday, Alberta’s baby boy, Alfred Daniel Williams King, named for her father, was found dead in the swimming pool at his home.

While the cause of A.D.’s death was listed as drowning, according to other sources, his demise was probably due to heart complications. A.D. was an excellent swimmer, but heart disease ran in his family. Three of A.D.’s children would die of heart attacks as did his father MLK, Sr. Combine heart complications and the anxiety of the civil rights movement and you have perfect recipe for stress. (A.D. King was with his brother in Memphis and at the Lorraine Hotel in the room below where his brother was killed.)
Through it all Alberta was the glue that held it all together, until one Sunday morning, June 30, 1974. She was playing “The Lord’s Prayer” on Ebenezer’s new organ when 23-year-old Mar-cus Wayne Chenault, from Dayton, Ohio, was welcomed into the church for morning worship.
He soon stood in the front pew, brandishing two handguns and started firing. Before choir members could pounce on him, Alberta King and Edward Boykin, a church deacon, lay dying. Both were 69. Another parishioner was wounded.

Why did he do it? The New York Times reported that Chenault “hated Christianity.” But even in death, Alberta exemplified the grace of God. Chenault was sentenced to death. His lawyers appealed saying Chenault was insane. While the guilty verdict was upheld, the sentence was modified to life in prison, due to the fact that the King family opposition the death penalty.

On August 3, 1995, Chenault, serving his sen-tence at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia, suffered a stroke. On August 19, Chenault would die in a Riverdale hospital without ever regaining consciousness. He was 44.


Written by Charles Richardson