There were only a few of us on the tour, and I was the only female, so the tour guide allowed me to unlock the very same door that MLK would have unlocked hundreds of times. (Those who live in the South know that it is common Southern etiquette for men to allow women to walk through doors ahead of them. Even in high-rise office buildings in downtown Nashville, men will kindly insist that women exit the elevator ahead of them.)
The parsonage housed pastors and their families from 1920-1992 and then sat vacant for 10 years before it was renovated to look as it did when it was home to MLK and his family. The foundation was even able to recover many of the pieces of furniture (and even the gas stove and Melmac dinnerware) used by the famous civil rights activist and his wife and children.
We were honored to sit at MLK’s kitchen table and listen to the famous speech he gave shortly before his death. He spoke of the epiphany he had had at that very kitchen table, late at night on January 27th, 1956.
Only 27 years old and the leader of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, MLK was receiving 30-40 death threats each day. On the night of January 27th, he was particular shaken by a caller who threatened to blow up his house if he didn’t leave town within three days. Frightened, MLK made himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. Praying earnestly, he heard the still, small voice of God instruct him to stand up for truth, justice, and righteousness.
Almost every item in the home has significance, right down to the vase of artificial red carnations sitting on the kitchen table. In March 1968, MLK sent his wife, Coretta Scott King, an artificial bouquet of her favorite flowers, red carnations. Coretta, who usually received fresh flowers from her husband, asked him why he had sent fake ones, to which MLK responded that he had wanted to give her something she could have as a keepsake. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed just three weeks later in Memphis, Tennessee. Coretta cherished the flowers until her death in 2006.
Just a few days later, a bomb exploded on the front porch and blew through the living room window. Goosebumps crept up my neck as the tour guide pointed out a gash in the concrete in front of the porch swing.
After the tour, we were thrilled to meet Vera Harris, a lovely woman in her 90s who has lived down the street since MLK and his family resided in the parsonage. Her husband was a Tuskegee airman, and the two of them housed freedom riders in their home. Vera enjoys sitting on her front porch and greeting tourists. She gave us both a hug and held our hands as she asked where we were from and what brought us to Montgomery. Before we left, her daughter had us sign a guest book.
We also learned that there is a barber shop just down the street where Nelson Malden, who gave Martin Luther King, Jr., his first haircut when he moved into the parsonage and his last haircut before he died, still cuts hair a couple days a week.
Before leaving town, we stopped by the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Unfortunately, it was closed, but we filmed a short vlog (below). If you ever have a chance to visit Montgomery, be sure to visit the many sites of the Civil Rights Movement. The city truly is bursting with rich history!