The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew Durham well. He visited several times, usually staying at the home of N.C. Rep. H.M. “Mickey” Michaux Jr., D-Durham, then a young man.
King’s footsteps in downtown Durham are covered by construction fencing right now for One City Center, which will soon be the city’s tallest building. But in the early 1960s, that block at Corcoran, Parrish and Main streets was a Woolworth’s. In the wave of Civil Rights Movement sit-ins, King visited Durham and went to Woolworth’s with Rev. Douglas Moore, the Durham pastor behind this city’s sit-in at Royal Ice Cream, and Ralph Abernathy. They were pictured by a Herald-Sun photographer walking down West Main Street and at Woolworth’s, which ended up being closed that day — Feb. 16, 1960.
King’s first visit to Durham was at the invitation of the Durham Business and Professional Chain. He spoke at the old Hillside High School on Oct. 15, 1956. Michaux, 87, told me about how that first visit came to be for a story I wrote in 2008. October 1956 was toward the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Michaux was 26 then, and chairman of the Professional Chain’s trade week program. Michaux brought up a connection to a potential guest speaker, King, as he had gone to boarding school with King’s younger brother A.D. A few in the Chain questioned bringing a Baptist preacher to speak to a business organization, Michaux told me. But he and Louis Alston made the call, and King accepted the invitation.
Michaux was a graduate student at the then-North Carolina College at Durham — now N.C. Central University — and was living at home with his parents, Henry Sr. and Isadore. King came to the house for dinner, then they walked together to Hillside for his speech, which Michaux recalled was about love for one’s fellow man. King stayed after the speech to talk with folks, then talked back in the Michaux living room until 2 or 3 a.m.
During his Feb. 16, 1960 visit to Durham, King preached in White Rock Baptist Church’s original building. King gave his “Fill Up the Jails” speech or sermon, depending on how you consider it. White Rock was packed for his visit.
On other returns to Durham, King also spoke at the Jack Tar Hotel, a name that’s been renewed with a new diner in what is now the Unscripted Hotel downtown. And King spoke at N.C. Central University and Duke University, too. You can listen to King’s 1964 speech at Duke at mlk.duke.edu/king-at-duke/.
King was invited to Durham once again in early April 1968 to help with a political campaign. But he changed his plans, going instead to Memphis to help with the sanitation workers’ strike. It was on that trip in Memphis that he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
There is no historical marker in downtown Durham where King walked. But Durham remembers.
At the Durham City Council meeting on Jan. 2, the council issued a proclamation honoring and remembering King as a “champion of justice.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. EVENTS IN DURHAM
THURSDAY, JAN. 11:
13th Annual Durham City-County Martin Luther King Jr. Employee Observance Program at noon at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St., Durham. The keynote speaker is Pierce Freelon, applicant for Durham City Council and founder of Blackspace. Music by the Durham City-County MLK Employee Choir. The event is free and open to the public. For more information contact the Durham County Manager’s Office at 919-560-0000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SATURDAY, JAN. 13:
MLK Wreath Laying Ceremony at 9 a.m., 1100 Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, Durham. Sponsored by the Durham Community Martin Luther King Jr. Steering Committee. See a list of all events at durhammlkcommittee.org/.
SUNDAY, JAN. 14:
▪ Duke University annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration will be held at 3 p.m. in Duke University Chapel. Free parking in the Bryan Center Garage. The keynote speaker is Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The program will also feature performances by Bobby Caddell, Yvette Cates, Felicia Wright, The John Brown Band and the Collage Dance Company of Durham. Duke President Vincent Price, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, Duke University Hospital President Dr. Thomas Owens and Duke Black Student Alliance President Michael Ivory Jr. will also speak. The public is invited. Duke’s theme for the 2018 commemoration is theme is “From King to Kaepernick – Progress Through Protest.” See a full list of Duke MLK events at mlk.duke.edu.
▪ The Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins will preach at the 11 a.m. worship service in celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St., Durham. Hawkins is director of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. and was previously pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Durham and active in the N.C. NAACP. For more information, call the church office at 919-682- 5511.
▪ Writer and historian Timothy Tyson will give the Martin Luther King Jr. Day sermon at Watts Street Baptist Church, 800 Watts St., in Durham, during 11 a.m. worship service. Tyson teaches at Duke and UNC and is He is the author of “The Blood of Emmett Till.” The service will be followed by a lunch and discussion about issues of race and poverty in North Carolina. Lunch reservations can be made by calling the church office at 919-688-1366.
MONDAY, JAN. 15:
▪ Durham Community Martin Luther King Jr. Steering Committee Unity March and Rally. Starts at 10:30 a.m. at the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company, 411 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham. The march ends at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St. Bring new children’s books to donate to Book Harvest’s Dream Big Book Drive.
▪ MomsRising and other parent and community groups will throw a Children’s Birthday Party for Dr. King from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Northgate Mall Center Court, 1058 W. Club Blvd., Durham. Kid-friendly workshops and activities for preschool to middle school-aged children focused on the ways children were part of the civil rights struggle and the power of children today to help change the world for the better. Celebration on the main stage at noon followed by singing of “Happy Birthday” and birthday cake at 12:30 p.m. For more information contact Beth Messersmith of MomsRising at 919-323-6179 or email@example.com.
▪ Durham Civil Rights Workers’ Reunion Committee will host its 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at 1 p.m. at St. Joseph AME Church, 2521 Fayetteville St., Durham. The theme is “Striving for Peace, Justice and Equality for All.” N.C. Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Larry D. Hall is the guest speaker. Music by Val Hannah-Murphy and the Hillside High School Alumni Choir. For information, call Sylvia Knuckles-Rebenson at 919-641- 5758.
▪ Durham Community Martin Luther King Jr. Steering Committee Annual Religious Service at 6 p.m. at Peace Missionary Baptist Church, 2608 Apex Highway, Durham. The keynote speaker is Linda Wright Bryan, associate professor of mission and ministry at Shaw University.
SATURDAY, FEB. 3:
Spectacular Magazine will present the 16th Annual North Carolina MLK Black History Month Parade and Block Party on Fayetteville Street from Cornwallis Road to Dawson Street in Durham. The parade begins at noon. The party is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. N.C. Central University Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye is grand marshal.