My Two Visits with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By | January 17, 2014
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Maurice and Dondeena Caldwell pose with a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr, shaking hands with Maurice

By Maurice Caldwell

My first conversation with Dr. King took place in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957. I was a missionary in Mexico, invited to speak in Montgomery at a Church of God convention.

After the convention, I went to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, near the State Capitol. Pastor King was out of his office, but I was able to reach him at home. The King family lived in a neat, white house that had been repainted after being bombed. (After the successful yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, the buses were integrated in 1956.)

Dr. King showed personal interest in the Church of God Peace Fellowship, and my being a charter member. He expressed appreciation for the work that Dondeena and I were doing — starting “La Buena Tierra,” the first Church of God Bible Institute in Latin America. And of course I was fascinated to meet the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement, and to hear him describe the tremendous struggles going on. Segregation and discrimination had to be resisted actively, but always in a spirit of nonviolence and reconciliation.

He asked me to write to him when I returned to Saltillo, Mexico, which I did. Dondeena and I became supporting members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organized in New Orleans in 1957, with Dr. King as president. We received regular newsletters from SCLC.

My second visit was in Atlanta in 1963. I was the secretary of the Church of God Home Missions Department, and I coordinated work with minorities all across North America. I visited Dr. Harry V. Richardson, a Drew Seminary classmate of mine, who directed the United Christian Center in Atlanta. He was a colleague of Dr. King, and helped make arrangements for me to spend a Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, pastored by Dr. King and his father.

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” was one of the hymns we sang during an inspiring worship service. Dr. King’s mother, Mrs. Alberta King, was the choir director. (Later, she was shot and killed while playing “the Lord’s Prayer” on the church organ.) Co-Pastor M. L. King, Jr. who had just returned from Selma, Alabama, preached a stirring gospel message. He also reported on the confrontations in Selma with “Bull” Conner, and the police dogs and fire hoses used to harass the demonstrators. But Dr. King spoke with no hatred or vengefulness, only a stronger commitment to nonviolent resistance and to the creation of the Beloved Community. God met with his people at Ebenezer that morning, and the entire service was a celebration of praise.

Dr. King invited me to his home that afternoon and introduced me to his wife, Coretta Scott King, and to their three little children: Yolanda, M. L. King III, and Dexter. I felt that they were a model family.

Just before the evening service, a photographer took pictures of Dr. King and me, in his study. He showed me a letter on his desk, and said that it was an invitation to speak in the Anderson School of Theology. He regretted that he had a prior commitment on that date.

We talked while he put on his hip boots for the baptismal service. Then we went into the sanctuary for another memorable worship experience. The service began with the baptism of a dozen or more candidates, three of whom were white persons. Dr. King’s father preached the sermon, and again I felt that I heard the pure gospel.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. W. E. Reed, Dr. Louise P. Meyer, Dr. Edward L. Foggs, and I participated in the historic “March on Washington.” On the eve of the march, we met with Church of God people from all across the country in a solidarity rally in the National Memorial Church of God. The next morning we joined 250,000 persons on The Mall to hear the famous “I have A Dream” speech. We realized that “the dreamer” was also “a doer.”

A year later, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. I was impressed by his donation of the $54,000 prize to the civil rights movement. He stated that the award was “a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for humanity to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

My life has been immeasurably enriched by personal acquaintance with the 20th Century’s great American Apostle of Nonviolence. Dr. King understood that the triple evils of our time are racism, poverty, and war. We realize that they are part of our unfinished agenda. And “We Shall Overcome” because, as Dr. King reminded us, “The universe is on the side of justice!”

*Originally published in “Church of God Peace Fellowship” Magazine, Autumn 2004.

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