Named by Martin Luther King, Jr., as one of the strongest orators in the African American church, Sandy Ray was one of many talented ministers who, through his association with Martin Luther King, Sr., served as a role model for King, Jr.
Born in Texas, Ray was King, Sr.,’s closest friend while they attended Morehouse College’s three-year minister’s degree program. After graduating in 1930, Ray served Baptist churches in LaGrange, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; and Macon, Georgia, before being called to Brooklyn, New York’s Cornerstone Baptist Church in 1944, where he served as pastor until his death. Ray was one of six candidates nominated for president of the National Baptist Convention in 1953. Beginning in 1954, he presided over New York’s Empire Missionary Baptist Convention for many years.
Throughout his life, Ray remained close to the Kings. King, Jr., remarked during a March 1956 speech in New York, “I’m glad to see Rev. Sandy Ray out there.… You know, for years he was ‘Uncle Sandy’ to me. In fact, I did not know he was not related to me by blood until I was 12 years old” (Herndon, “Sidelights of a ‘Kingly’ Meeting”). Earlier in the month Ray had attended a Montgomery Improvement Association mass meeting in support of the Montgomery bus boycott. It was at Ray’s parsonage at Cornerstone Baptist that King recuperated after being stabbed in September 1958 by Izola Ware Curry.
Ray supported the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by serving as a member of the steering committee for a June 1961 fundraising effort in New York City. He was also a founding member of the board of directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. On the afternoon that Ray dedicated Cornerstone Baptist’s community center in 1966, King delivered the sermon “Guidelines for a Constructive Church” there. Ray delivered the eulogy at the funeral of King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, in 1974.
Donald T. Ferron, Notes on MIA mass meeting at Hutchinson Street Baptist Church, in Papers 3:150–151.
Cholly Herndon, “Sidelights of a ‘Kingly’ Meeting in Brooklyn,” New York Amsterdam News, 31 March 1956.
King, Guidelines for a Constructive Church, Sermon Delivered at Cornerstone Baptist Church, 29 May 1966, CBCR.
King, Sr., with Riley, Daddy King, 1980.