While Dr Martin Luther King Jr was born about 250 years after Bach, they share a curious commonality. Bach apparently spent his life around Thuringia and apparently never went further north than Hamburg or east of Dresden: later to be devastated by war-criminal bombing by the Americans and British during World War II. Bach’s geographically challenged life has a quaint commonality in the early King years.
I visited the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site in Atlanta. His house is in the “Sweet Auburn” neighborhood on Auburn Avenue. His birth home where he lived for 12 years is comfortably middle class and well preserved. Just a block away on the same side of the street is Ebenezer Baptist Church. King could walk there in a couple of minutes. His father Daddy King and maternal grandfather, Alfred Daniel Williams, were pastors at the venerable church before Dr King. The church has been restored and is a national landmark and I was struck at how close it was to the King home.
I was the only visitor in the church when I entered. There was a solitary park official in the church’s sanctuary seated in the front pew to the side. The church was remodeled and its restoration was completed only a few months prior to my visit. Mahalia Jackson gospel music enveloped the church. A King sermon followed discussing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Portraits of the three generations of King pastors are on stain-glass windows. There is a balcony, off limits. The altar is off-limits but one can walk around the church and sense the power and significance of it as a sanctuary from apartheid and its inspiration to end it.
Dr King attended Morehouse College which is just three miles away from the church. On the lovely campus is a statue of Dr King and the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel that I entered on a record-setting heat afternoon in Atlanta. His original home, church, university are strikingly near each other. Dr King ended his relative geographic isolation when he attedned Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania for his bachelor’s in divinity and later earned his doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955.
NB: there is another Ebenezer Baptist Church in “Sweet Auburn” that is “active” and does not invite visitors except during services. Yet the original is open and restored to its original luminescence. Marcus Wayne Chenault shot to death Dr King’s mother, Alberta King, while playing organ in the original church in 1974.