MONTGOMERY, AL (RNN) – Dr. Martin Luther King is remembered today as an icon of faith whose courage changed a nation. It's important, too, to remember that he was man like any other, who fought fear and doubt when confronted by hate.
The front porch of his former home in Montgomery, AL, still bears the marks of a 1956 explosion that stands as testimony to the rage and violence that stalked him. The young minister met that murderous act with peace in his heart and turned away an angry crowd that wanted to meet violence with more violence. He had found that strength three nights earlier, said Tina Vernon, a docent at the parsonage that is now a museum.
On Jan. 27, King came home from one of the many meetings he attended as leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. That night, like so many others, his phone rang with threats, Vernon said.
The family sometimes received up to 40 menacing calls a day, she said. But one shook King to the core, Vernon said as she pointed to a period gossip bench like one King might have sat on when he answered the phone.
The caller made vile threats. King recounted that night in a speech about a decade later. The tape of that speech is played for visitors to the parsonage kitchen where King and his young family enjoyed meals together.
"It was around midnight," King remembered. "I immediately crawled into bed to get some rest. And immediately the phone started ringing, and I picked it up."
The caller told King to leave town within three days or he would die and his house would be blown up. King said he had heard the threats before but this one was different.
This time, he was afraid.
"I tried to go to sleep," he said. "But I couldn't. (I) was frustrated, bewildered. I got up and went back to the kitchen." He made coffee, seeking relief. He sought an answer for why he had to face such opposition as a young pastor with a vulnerable family, including a newborn daughter. He drew on his years of theological and philosophical training to find a reason for such sin and evil.
"The answer didn't quite come there," King said.
"I was weak," he said, adding that he was thinking of his wife and the gentle smile of his baby Yolanda. Then King remembered something his father had told him, that there would be times when he would have to call on,"that power that can make a way out of no way," he said.
"I discovered then that religion had to become real to me. I had to know God for myself. I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I will never forget it."
King said an inner voice spoke and said, "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth and lo, I will be with you even to the end of the world."
King's voice rose:
"I tell you I've seen the lighting flash, I've heard the thunder roar! I felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus! Stand still to fight on. He promised never to leave me; never to leave me alone!"
Three nights later the phone threat became real. King's wife Coretta and friend Mary Lucy Williams were in the front part of the modest seven-room home, Turner said.
"They heard something on the porch," Turner said, adding that the two women immediately fled to where the baby was in the back of the house.
The bomb went off on the front porch and Turner said it drove slivers of glass into the walls in the front of the home.
King was at a church meeting several blocks away. He saw people whispering, but not to him, Turner said. When he asked what they were talking about he learned that somebody had bombed his house
He hurried home and checked on his family, and once he was assured of their safety, he addressed the furious crowd that had assembled from the neighborhood, which is located just three blocks behind the Alabama State Capitol building.
His own faith, having been strengthened three nights before, guided him. He told the crowd to go home, that no harm had come to anyone, and he defused the explosive situation, Turner said.
He turned the raw emotion of that night not into more violence, but forgiveness and peace. His reaction set the tone for the movement that brought freedom to millions.
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