By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Martin Luther King III, son of the late Civil Rights icon, was in Birmingham Wednesday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights campaign.
King gave remarks during Alabama Power’s signature Black History Month event, Power of Leadership, and later took part in a Q&A with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin moderated by Myla Calhoun, Vice-President, Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division.
Answering questions from Calhoun during an hour-long event before an in-person audience of 150 political and business leaders, King III said he wasn’t surprised that his life’s work involved Civil and Human Rights, given his upbringing which he described as a “front row seat of what happened in the modern Civil Rights Movement.”
He talked about “[being] engaged with young leaders at the time . . . in our home John Lewis [the late Congressman] and Julian Bond [former Georgia State Senator] later on, of course, Maynard Jackson [former mayor of Atlanta] and a host of others who have been student leaders.”
Growing up in the King household was an education in itself, he said.
“Life experiences,” he pointed out, “. . . experiences when my father and mother (Coretta Scott King) on Sunday mornings, we would eat breakfast . . . dad would lead us in prayer, we’d say Bible verses, and then he would discuss the things that he was working on in the world . . . sometimes mom would reinforce those things during the week.”
One of the most important documents to come out of the Civil Rights Movement 60 years ago and perhaps in American history is Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” which King III called “probably one of the most scholarly documents that has ever been written.”
“And to think about the stress of being in a jail,” he said. “And it was written, as you perhaps know, on the side of toilet tissue and newspapers, and snuck out to the secretary to be developed and sent out to the community. So, you know, I’m thinking about, no research, no public library, just what was in his mind. I mean, folks from Harvard are studying how [did that happen]? How was he able to do this? It just shows the brains . . . he was not just a minister and human rights leader, he was a scholar.”
King III pointed out that Stanford University has 12 volumes of his father’s scholarly works and each one of those books is 1,000 pages. “Now think about the fact that he didn’t live to be 39 years old, and all of this information is now coming out. So once that is complete and put throughout our system digitally, I think that will become one of the foremost scholarly [works] which is important and profound.”
And, of course, the conversation during the Power of Leadership conversation touched on something else the two leaders had in common: both King III and Woodfin are Morehouse College alums.
“From afar, I watched him and admired him and appreciate him and his friendship,” King III said of the mayor. “It’s exciting what is happening in Birmingham. I’ll say that it does not mean there’re not challenges. But as long as you have someone who is working and dedicated, dependable and determined, that is what you have in your Mayor” the city will grow.
Woodfin said Morehouse College is at a minimum “a three-way intersection of academic rigor, leadership, and community service. It was tough, it was hard, didn’t matter what your major was. And you got challenged by not only your professors, but by your peers,” the mayor said. “But we were nurtured into how to be a man, not just a Morehouse man upon completion of Morehouse, but to be a man and leader and in service in your community, your family and anywhere you put your two feet on the ground. You had to serve, you had to lead.”