A Colorful History: King visits Demopolis

Published 12:35 am Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Everyone knows of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Washington, D.C., and the march from Selma to Montgomery or his fateful trip to Memphis. However, what is little known is of his visits to this area.

“He came to Demopolis several times,” said Annye Braxton. “The initial time he came was when we organized the Demopolis Civic Club. He came back during the march we had (from U.S. Jones to downtown), and he spoke at the Morning Star Baptist Church when we had the mass meeting.”

The mass meeting was organized to bolster voter registration for blacks and to promote civil rights.

Email newsletter signup

Ralph Abernathy, who assumed the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference upon King’s death in 1968, was a native of Linden, and likely encouraged King to visit his home area.

In May 1965, two months after the famed march from Selma to Montgomery, King paid his most memorable trip to Demopolis. He spoke at Morning Star Baptist Church to a packed house.

King was joined by Abernathy, Andrew Young and Hosea Williams and other leaders in the SCLC. Other civil rights workers from across the state also came to Demopolis to promote voting rights.

“That was the first time they had ever put speakers outside the church,” said Thomas Moore, who was a young child at the time. “The whole parking lot was just inundated with speakers. It was like it was on Jan. 20 (with Obama’s inauguration): everybody was quiet and listening intently.

“He gave his vision and his reasons for what he was doing — why he was doing it and that he was committed to it.”

King left an impression on those who heard him speak.

“It was intense; it was as electric a minister as we could get in there,” Moore said.

Following the program, he went across the street to the home of the late Rev. and Mrs. Henry Haskins’ house to eat.

“They had cornbread, fried chicken, iced tea and she made an apple pie and they had collard greens,” said Virginia Haskins Webb, the Haskins’ daughter. “That was the basics. He told my mama that it was the best meal he had ever had.”

Most of the local memories of King were of his gentle qualities.

“He was a very eloquent speaker,” said Braxton. “He practiced non-violence and tried to instill in those within the movement to practice non-violence.”

“He had shiny eyes, like gold,” Webb said. “I’ve never seen eyes like that.”

As to the fulfillment of King’s dream, while it still not completely fulfilled, the dream of equality based on race has progressed by leaps and bounds since 1965.