A Baptist minister and close friend of Martin Luther King’s at both Morehouse College and Crozer Theological Seminary, Walter McCall described his relationship with King as the type of “friends who share in the totality of your life’s experiences.” McCall remembered King as “an ordinary student” who “loved the lighter side of life as any normal boy would do” (McCall, 31 March 1970).
McCall was born in Conway, South Carolina, on 23 August 1923, and served in the Army during World War II. Although six years older than King, the two formed a close friendship while at Morehouse. McCall shared King’s passion for justice: they were part of a group that considered suing a New Jersey tavern owner who had refused to serve them on the basis of race in 1950. McCall observed a change in King when he entered the seminary. “He began to take his studies more seriously; he began to take preaching more seriously,” he recalled. “He would sometimes, if necessary, stay up all night to make certain that he got an idea” (McCall, 31 March 1970).
After completing his studies at Crozer in 1951, McCall attended Temple University and was dean and chaplain at Georgia’s Fort Valley State College from 1951 to 1957. McCall and King competed directly for the open Dexter Avenue Baptist Church pastorate in early 1954. Following King’s trial sermon at Dexter, entitled “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” McCall gave a sermon there entitled “The Four Dimensions of a Complete Life.” Dexter awarded its pastorate to King, and McCall wrote to congratulate him.
Earlier in their careers, McCall and King exchanged speaking engagements, with McCall speaking at a Youth Day at Dexter and King speaking at Religious Emphasis Week at Fort Valley State College. McCall offered his support to King in the early stages of the Montgomery bus boycott, writing, “Do not despair. This is your task! Face it with courage. The storm will break!” (Papers 3:118).
In 1957 McCall took over the pastorate at Providence Baptist Church in Atlanta. He went on to serve as director of Morehouse’s School of Religion from 1965 to 1969. McCall’s last memory of King was three weeks before King’s assassination, when the two joked about the risks King faced and promised to meet again soon. McCall died on 12 November 1978.
Introduction, in Papers 2:29.
McCall, Interview by Herbert Holmes, 31 March 1970, MLK/OH-GAMK.
McCall to King, 5 August 1954, in Papers 2:283–284.
McCall to King, 21 October 1954, in Papers 2:303–304.
McCall to King, 1 February 1956, in Papers 3:117–118.
W. Thomas McGann, Statement on Behalf of Ernest Nichols, State of New Jersey v. Ernest Nichols, 20 July 1950, in Papers 1:327–328.