Dr. Martin Luther King was my employer,
my minister, my friend.
I worked for him for almost 3 years.
I first met Dr. King in 1965
when I was a Theology student at Yale.
My friend Homer McCall, a fellow student,
was a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Homer took me to my first Civil Rights Rally.
Dr. King was going to speak.
The hall was so full
we had to find standing room backstage.
When Dr. King came in,
he was escorted by a dozen policemen.
Before he greeted the Mayor and all the waiting VIP’s,
he spotted Homer,
walked right over to him and asked:
“Homer, how are your studies going?”
I’ll never forget it.
For Dr. King, there were no
very important people!
Everyone was equally important.
Once I went with him and his children
to an amusement park.
The kids had received
free tickets for the roller coaster!
Before the ride, Dr. King said very seriously:
“Harcourt, there’s something
I have to tell you right now.
Harcourt, this is a very frightening ride.”
Dr. King, could admit
he was afraid of the roller coaster,
but he took a ride anyway!
He was probably afraid of the dogs,
the police, the horses, the tear gas, the water canons, the bombs.
Fear never stopped Dr. King.
He did what was right.
He even supported the rights of the Klu Klux Klan when there was talk of banning it.
You have to grant your enemies
the same freedom as your friends.”
I will always remember Dr. King’s response to the Black Power Movement.
“Who were the people who had a history of murdering individuals and throwing their bodies in the river?
And now people request of me that I should sink to that level!
Then he said, There were white people who died for
the freedom of Blacks.”
For Dr. King, What Was Right Could Never Be Compromised!
One day, Mrs. King asked me to come by.
to fix an old tape recorder.
It took a long time.
When it got late, she asked me to stay for dinner.
“I don’t want to make extra work for you.”
“No, “ she said, “that’s no problem.
Martin often invites unexpected guests. “
When Dr. King came in, I said
“Dr. King, I do not feel worthy enough to sit with you
at the table..
Now, Harcourt,” he answered,
“You make it necessary to me to preach a long sermon about how all men are equal.”
The King house was on the edge of
one of the Black slums of Atlanta.
Dr. King chose to live there.
He would say,
“I want to be reminded every day for whom I work.”
He lived on his salary as assistant minister
and gave everything he earned from speaking and writing
to the Civil Rights Movement.
As the head of the SCLC – the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he received a symbolic salary of one dollar a year.
Dr. King did not care for wealth and fame.
In February of 1968, I was back at Yale finishing my studies.
Without his urging, I don’t think I would have gone back.
There was a big Peace Demonstration in Washington, D.C.
I drove down.
I was sitting in the front row with my tape recorder.
I used to record all his speeches.
Dr. King came up to me and asked,
“Harcourt, how are your studies going?”
I’ll never forget it.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
Had he lived, he would be 90 years old,
but 2 months later, he was dead.
I went to Atlanta for the funeral
and helped coordinate the TV broadcast.
Mrs. King requested that his last sermon be played.
There was no talk of awards –
He fed the hungry.
He cared for the poor.
He did not live in vain
if he lived for justice.
At his funeral, Reverend Ralph Abernathy intoned,
“They have slain the Dreamer,
but not the Dream.”