Although Alfred Daniel King, called A. D. by family and friends, lived in the shadows of his famous brother, Martin Luther King, Jr., he was a participant in the African American freedom struggle, often appearing at his brother’s side in movements in Atlanta and Birmingham.
Alfred Daniel Williams King was born on 30 July 1930, in Atlanta, Georgia. A. D. was the third child of Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King, Sr. In contrast to his peacemaking brother, Martin, A. D. was, according to his father, “a little rough at times” and “let his toughness build a reputation throughout our neighborhood” (King, Sr., 126). Less interested in academics than his siblings, A. D. started a family of his own while still a teenager. He was married on 17 June 1950, to Naomi Barber, with whom he had five children. Although as a youth he strongly resisted his father’s ministerial urgings, King eventually began assisting his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church. In 1959, King graduated from Morehouse College, and that same year he left Ebenezer to become pastor of Mount Vernon First Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia.
A. D. King was arrested with King, Jr., and 70 others while participating in an October 1960 lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta. In 1963, A. D. King became a leader of the Birmingham Campaign while pastoring at First Street Baptist Church in nearby Ensley, Alabama. On 11 May 1963 King’s house was bombed. In August, after a bomb exploded at the home of a prominent black lawyer in downtown Birmingham, thousands of outraged citizens poured into the city streets intent on revenge. As rocks were thrown at gathering policemen and the situation escalated, A. D. King climbed on top of a parked car and shouted to the rioters in an attempt to quell their fury: “My friends, we have had enough problems tonight. If you’re going to kill someone, then kill me.... Stand up for your rights, but with nonviolence” (“Bomb Hits Home in Birmingham”).
Like his brother, A. D. was a staunch believer in the importance of maintaining nonviolence in direct action campaigns. However, unlike his brother, A. D. was able to remain mostly outside of the media spotlight. As one of his associates said, “Not being in the limelight never seemed to affect him but because he stayed in the background, many people never knew that he was deeply involved, too” (Johnson, “A Rights Activist”).
In 1965, King moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he became pastor at Zion Baptist Church. While there, King continued to fight for civil rights and was successful in a 1968 campaign for an open-housing ordinance. After the assassination of King, Jr., in April 1968, there was speculation that A. D. might become president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). A. D., however, made no effort to assume his brother’s role, although he did continue to be active in the Poor People’s Campaign and in other work on behalf of SCLC. Following the death of King, Jr., A. D. King returned to Ebenezer Baptist Church and, in September 1968, was installed as co-pastor. Praised by his father as “an able preacher, a concerned, loving pastor,” A. D. King’s life was tragically cut short when he drowned on 21 July 1969, at the age of 38 (King, Sr., 191).
“Bomb Hits Home in Birmingham,” New York Times, 21 August 1963.
Introduction, in Papers 1:26, 43.
Thomas A. Johnson, “A Rights Activist,” New York Times, 22 July 1969.
King, Sr., with Riley, Daddy King, 1980.