Jethro Robert English Jr., 96: Deacon at Ebenezer Baptist

Jethro English Jr.'s middle name was "Robert."

Laura English-Robinson said it should have been "Ebenezer." Her father had mad love for Ebenezer Baptist Church. He joined the historic church in 1925, four years before its most famous son, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was born.

In the original church structure, a stained-glass window bears the name of Jethro and the late Auretha English, his wife of 69 years. As a decades-long deacon, his presence extended beyond Sunday service. He deemed it his duty to protect God's house, and to teach others to show respect.

In 2007, Mr. English said as much in a story that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Don't come in here making a mess," he said at the time. "If you have gum, put it in your pocket when you finish, don't leave it under the seat.

"Take care of this house."

"He loved that church so much," his daughter said. "He was always there because he wanted to be there. His middle name was ‘Robert,' but another middle name could have been ‘Ebenezer.' "

On Jan. 10, Jethro Robert English Jr. of Atlanta died of natural causes at home. He was 96. The funeral was held Saturday in the Horizons Sanctuary at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home handled arrangements.

Mr. English was born in Buttermilk Bottom, now the area around the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. His mother died when he was a toddler. His  family left the area and moved to a house near Auburn Avenue when he was a young man.

For decades, Mr. English worked as a foreman at the Atlanta Army Depot.  When he retired, he still worked odd jobs, such as a courier for MK Printers in Atlanta.

At home and in the community, he was a respected storyteller who could spin tales steeped in history about two things he knew remarkably well -- Ebenezer Baptist and the King family.

Mr. English was an attendant at the wedding of the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s parents. He met his future wife at a church choir rehearsal.  Auretha and Jethro were married by the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr.

"Students doing research for dissertations on Dr. King, or parts of the movement and how Ebenezer played a part in the movement, sought him and my mother out for this kind of knowledge," his daughter said. "They shared it willingly with people."

"He was a walking historian, but he wasn't flamboyant about it,"  said a son, the Rev. Ronald Williams English of Charleston, W.Va. "When his mind and spirit was called on, you got an abundance of information. More than you expected. His life was simple, but it was balanced in that he was a person of God, a father and a deacon."

And he was a "steady anchor," said the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, Ebenezer's senior pastor.

"He was the kind of black man you don't see depicted in media and mainstream culture," he said. "He was not a superstar, but he was faithful."

Mr. English always attended the annual King Day observances held at Ebenezer and elsewhere. He volunteered and did whatever was necessary for the church's commemorative services.

Though not as mobile in recent years, he still didn't miss the televised services.

"We always made sure that he watched it on TV," his daughter said. "We got him up in time -- both of them -- so they could be in the den in front of the TV. He would have been watching it today, had he still been here."

Additional survivors include another son, Robert English of Atlanta; two other daughters, Betty Ann Parksand Gwendolyn Worthem, both of Atlanta; three grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.