“But mother, I’m not Black, I’m Brown!”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
This weekend we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the March On Washington. Each month a new street somewhere in the world is named after this remarkable man-Martin Luther King Jr. and my last count was 1,012 streets bear his name. I have written countless essays on Dr. King, but this one is most special to me because we explore his childhood which is almost never explored or talked about. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Martin’s mother was a school teacher and Martin’s father was one of the most famous preachers in Atlanta, perhaps even in the state of Georgia. At six-years old Martin’s two best friends were white boys, they were brothers, Tom and Billy. Each day they would play together all day and often the three would go to each others house have lunch and play as young boys do. One day six-year old Martin went over to Tom and Billy’s house and he knocked on the door, Tom’s mom came to the door and she informed young Martin, Tom and Billy could no longer play with him. Martin confused, asked why.
Tom’s mother told young Martin because he was black and they were white and then she slammed the door in his face. Young Martin went back home confused and deeply troubled at what just happened to him; he told his mother. Martin’s mother tried her best to explain this thing called racism. She tried to tell him how some white people treat black people. Martin never interrupted his mother and when she was finished Martin extended his arms out and emphatically proclaimed:
“BUT MOTHER, I’M NOT BLACK, I’M BROWN!”
I hasten to add Martin Luther King Jr. came into the world Michael King Jr. so at the time of this incident he was called Michael. Martin’s father would change both their names some years later.
At the Atlanta film premiere of GONE WITH THE WIND on December 28th 1939 ten-year old Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on stage at a charity ball dressed as a slave boy for the promotion of the movie.
At age 12 young Martin tried to hurt himself when he was told his beloved grandmother had just died from a heart attack. Martin went to a parade that his parents told him he could not go, he went anyway and when he returned home his parents told him of his grandmother’s passing. Martin went upstairs to his room and jumped out the window intent on hurting himself.
At 15 young Martin was selected to a high school state-wide speaking contest that was held in Valdosta, Georgia, some 100 miles from Atlanta. Martin and his English teacher boarded the bus, but on the way back to Atlanta the bus began to fill up with white passengers, Martin and his teacher were told to give up their seats for the newly arrived white passengers. Martin refused.
Martin’s teacher pleaded with him, she knew they would kill him if he did not comply. So Martin gave up his seat and he and his English teacher had to stand for that long 100 mile trip. I read where Martin Luther King Jr. talked about that horrible experience and he said he was never so angry in his whole life as to that time where he had to stand when he paid for that seat back to Atlanta. I always thought it was appropriate that Dr. King lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott because he had first hand experience of the depravity black bus passengers endured.
At the tender age of 17, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first sermon, the year was 1946 in his father’s church.
“God isn’t some distant figure, high on a thrown in the sky, God is here. God is now. God is in each and everyone of you, you have value, you matter.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.