ATLANTA — The father of Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered as a prominent Atlanta preacher and civil rights leader. But as a young man from a poor sharecropping family in rural Georgia, he is said to have walked north to Atlanta barefoot so he didn’t wear out his only pair of shoes.
His legacy is now being honored through a community center built to help other low-income people find a path out of poverty.
Known as Daddy King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. became pastor of Atlanta’s influential Ebenezer Baptist Church and a leader of early efforts to challenge Georgia’s Jim Crow laws. Preaching education and self-reliance, King instilled values in his children that helped his eldest son become a transformational national leader.
Daughter Christine King Farris said the new $8 million Martin Luther King Sr. Community Resources Complex down the block from the historic church pastored by her father and later by her famous brother will provide computer literacy courses, financial planning and other services to help low-income people become more financially secure.
“This building being named for my father is very appropriate,” said Farris, 85. “He was a social activist who always said ‘Don’t forget about the least of these,’ meaning those persons who did not have the same wherewithal as others.”
Inside the building, Ebenezer worked with four other nonprofit organizations: Operation HOPE, Casey Family Programs, The Center for Working Families Inc. and Catholic Charities Atlanta. Each has space to provide services for people such as foster children, immigrants, teen mothers, at-risk students and others.
Farris said she hopes the new center will help increase recognition of her father’s contributions to the civil rights movement, which are not as well-known as those of Martin Luther King Jr.
“My brother grew up under my father, and of course it was there for him to see that kind of leadership,” Farris said. “He listened to the sermons. The whole idea of the social gospel, he got that from his father.”