King family, Ebenezer gather to remember MLK’s mother on 50th anniversary of her murder

An emotional service of reflection, prayer for Alberta Williams King and 2 others
A person holds a program as King’s family and members of the community gather to remember the life and legacy of MLK’s mother on the 50th anniversary of her murder at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 3034, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

A person holds a program as King’s family and members of the community gather to remember the life and legacy of MLK’s mother on the 50th anniversary of her murder at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 3034, in Atlanta. (Miguel Martinez / AJC)

This time, “The Lord’s Prayer” came at the end.

Fifty years ago, on June 30, 1974, as Alberta King, the mother of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., signaled the beginning of church services at Ebenezer Baptist Church with the playing of the “The Lord’s Prayer” on the organ, she was gunned down.

On Sunday, Alberta King’s family and the Ebenezer community remembered her in an emotional program, filled with serious reflection, music and, at times, laughter.

Mistress of ceremonies Monica Pearson greets U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock during the commemoration of the life and legacy of MLK’s mother, Alberta King, on the 50th anniversary of Mrs. King's murder at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 2024, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Deacon Edward Boykin, who was also killed that morning, and Trustee Jimmie Mitchell, who was shot, were also remembered.

“We have come to affirm that nothing can put out the light of Alberta Williams King,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Nothing can put out the light of Deacon Edward Boykin. Nothing can put out the light of Trustee Jimmie Mitchell.”

The theme of the program, held at 4 p.m. in the sanctuary of the historic church where the shooting occurred, was “Faith Over Fear, Love Over Hate.”

On a series of panels, Angela Farris Watkins, Isaac Farris, Bernice King and Derek King, the grandchildren of Alberta King, recalled the moment of watching the shooting and the painful aftermath.

They were joined by Warnock and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath as well as longtime members of Ebenezer.

Angela Farris Watkins and Isaac N. Farris Jr., grandchildren of Alberta King, react during an emotional service, “Faith Over Fear,” recalling the events that family members endured the murder of MLK’s mother, Alberta King, 50 years ago at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 2024, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Sitting at a table in front of the church’s altar, on the exact spot where a wounded Alberta King was placed after she was shot, Angela Farris, her youngest granddaughter, said despite the trauma, Ebenezer will always be a sanctuary.

“It was the church that gathered around us and kept us going,” Angela Farris said. “And helped us feel love and supported.”

The musical selections, including rousing renditions of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” and “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” were performed by some of the original members of the Martin Luther King Sr. Choir.

Survivors of the 1974 shooting at Ebenezer, where Alberta Williams King was murdered, stood as they were recognized during the 50th anniversary of her murder at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 2024, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Under the leadership of Alberta King, they were supposed to sing those songs on the day of the shooting 50 years ago.

Alberta King, the long-time musical director of Ebenezer, was to start with “The Lord’s Prayer.”

On that morning, the congregation closed their eyes and bowed their heads as she began to play.

Having denounced Christianity, 23-year-old Marcus Wayne Chenault walked into Ebenezer with two guns with the intention of killing the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. Instead, as the service began, he shot Alberta King twice.

Alberta Williams King, right, attends a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church with husband Martin Luther King Sr. in January 1970. Alberta King was murdered in the same church in 1974 as she played the organ. (Chuck Vollertsen/AJC Archive at GSU Library AJCP443-116c)

Credit: Chuck Vollertsen

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Credit: Chuck Vollertsen

He then shot and killed longtime church Deacon Edward Boykin. Trustee Jimmie Mitchell, who had sat next to Chenault before the service began, was shot but survived her injuries.

“Nobody thought my grandmother would be shot playing “The Lord’s Prayer,” in church,” Isaac Farris said.

James Boykin Jr., a nephew of Boykin, offered the opening prayer for the program. Ivy Singletary, a great-granddaughter of Jimmie Mitchell, was one of five students who read The Litany during Sunday’s program.

Rev. Dr. Derek Barber King Sr. (right) speaks to the congregation during the remembrance of the life and legacy of MLK’s mother on the 50th anniversary of her murder at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 2024, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

“What we heard today ... we take it in, we reflect on it, and we incorporate it in our lives,” said Bernice King. “Everybody in here comes from ancestors who faced dark, difficult and evil times, but they got through it. That is a part of your DNA. The ability to overcome difficult seasons.”

After members of the King family talked about the shooting, the AJC’s Monica Pearson pushed the issue of Alberta King’s murder forward with a conversation with Warnock, McBath and Bernice King about gun violence.

McBath, who became a gun advocate after her son, Jordan Davis, was murdered in 2012, is a favorite to win her fourth term in Congress in November.

Bernice King and U.S. Congresswoman Lucy McBath (right) speak in the panel “Love Over Hate” during the commemoration of the life and legacy of MLK’s mother on the 50th anniversary of her murder at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 2024, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

“This is a public health crisis because when we are placing more precedent of guns over God,” McBath said. “We are out of order. It is going to take a long time to get over this scourge and change this narrative.”

Warnock called gun violence, “an epidemic in the United States of America.”

“It is important to underscore that this doesn’t happen anywhere else that is not at war,” Warnock said. “It forces the question, why is it happening here?”

Warnock estimated that there is at least one mass shooting somewhere in the United States every day. He said that when shootings occur, gun advocates often point to mental illness as the cause. Warnock said the problem is bigger than that and pointed to policy.

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court overturned a ban on bump stocks, a device that enables semiautomatic rifles to fire at speeds rivaling machine guns. In 2017, a man opened fire from the window of his Las Vegas hotel room killing 60 people after firing more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in 11 minutes.

“Chenault was mentally ill, but he was only able to kill two people,” Warnock said. “He didn’t have bump stocks. He didn’t have an AR-15, which he would have been able to get today. That is the difference that public policy makes. We are a culture awash with guns.”

As the choir sang at the end of the nearly three-hour service, they were accompanied by a drummer, a piano player and an organist, playing a portable red organ.

The congregation observes organist Jarvis Wilson as he performs “The Lord’s Prayer” at the end of the service commemorating Alberta Williams King's life at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, June 30, 2024, in Atlanta.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Members of the congregation stood, shouted and clapped with them, including Jarvis Wilson.

Then, for the first time, he sat down. At Alberta King’s organ. The same one she played for decades as the musical director of Ebenezer.

The same one she began to play when she was killed.

Wilson, who was one of Alberta King’s music students, began playing “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The congregation closed their eyes and bowed their heads.

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