Day 4 - King Center Youth Nonviolence Camp Tours Alabama Sites


photo by Evan Bernard, King Center intern

July 28 - Enrollees in the King Center's "N.O.W. Encounter: Kingian Nonviolence in Action" Youth Nonviolence Summer Camp first session, listen to Ms. Shirley Cherry, tour director of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Parsonage Museum (sitting at center) explain that she is sitting at the very table where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his "kitchen table experience," while he was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama during the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott. As Mrs. Coretta Scott King described Dr. King's experience at that table in her introduction to the book, "Standing in the Need of Prayer":

"For my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., prayer was a daily source of courage and strength that gave him the ability to carry on, even in the darkest hours of our struggle. I remember one very difficult day when he came home bone-weary from the stress that came with his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Then in the middle of the night he got another one of the many threatening and abusive phone calls we received throughout the Movement. On this particular occasion, however, Martin had had enough.

"After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee and he began to worry about his family and all of the burdens that came with our Movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God. “Lord I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

"Later he told me, “At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experience him before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: ‘Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’” When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence and he was ready to face anything.

I believe that this prayer was a critical turning point for the African American freedom struggle, because from that point forward we had a leader who was divinely inspired, who could not be turned around by threats or any form of violence. This kind of courage and conviction is truly contagious, and I know his example inspired me to carry on through the difficult days of my journey.”

Pictured above, members of the King Center's "N.O.W. Encounter" Nonviolence Youth Camp, faculty, staff, volunteers and youth participants  pose on the steps of the historic 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. From the wikipedia report on the 1963 bombing of the church:

"The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963 as an act of racially motivated terrorism. The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the U.S. 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

…The three-story 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama had been a rallying point for civil rights activities through the spring of 1963, and was where the students who were arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign's Children's Crusade were trained. The church was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth.

In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash, and Robert Chambliss, members of United Klans of America, a Ku Klux Klan group, planted a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the church, near the basement. At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” when the bomb exploded. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14), were killed in the attack, and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins' younger sister, Sarah.[1] The explosion blew a hole in the church's rear wall, destroyed the back steps and all but one stained-glass window, which showed Christ leading a group of little children.

As the news story about the four girls reached the national and international press, many felt that they had not taken the Civil Rights struggle seriously enough. At the funeral for three of the girls (one familypreferred a separate, private funeral), Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about life being "as hard as crucible steel." More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of all races, attended the service. No city officials attended."