Dexter members assembled in the church auditorium on the night of 23 October to listen to King present his annual report. A phone call from St. Jude’s Hospital interrupted King’s presentation and a parishioner announced, “Dr. [W. D.] Pettus says it’s a boy.” Cheers and applause filled the room. Deacon C. J. Dunn asked King if he had decided upon a name, to which the pastor replied, “Martin Luther King III.” When the congratulations subsided King continued with the report. 1
In this introduction, King acknowledges his “frustration of feeling that in the midst of so many things to do I am not doing anything well.” He thanks the congregation for its “abiding patience and sympathetic understanding” and its “willingness to share me with the nation.” King cites the love and support of church members as being a critical source of strength and thanks them for bringing “a little light to the all too many dark moments of leadership.” In sections of the forty-one-page report not printed below, King provided a financial report, lists of church officers and leaders, outstanding events, and outside sermons and lectures he had delivered during the 1956-1957 church year. King's list of pastoral chores included thirty sermons preached at Dexter, fifty addresses away from home, 115 community and civic meetings attended, and ten books read. He also listed three recommendations for the upcoming year, including the formation of a religious education committee, the organization of a coordinating council to assist the pastor in implementing church programs, and the hiring of an associate choir director.
We come again to the beginning of a new church year. As we emerge into the new year we are forced to think of the immediate past and all of its challanges for the future ahead.
The 1956-57 church year has been another year of extended horizons for Dexter. A fine group of persons have joined the fellowship of Dexter this year, and more than ninety-five per cent of these new members are active participants in the program of the church, and have joined other members in inspiring worship services each Lord’s Day.
Financially, we have again gone over the top. We had punched our budget three months before the church year ended. Receipts from all sources have exceeded twenty-three thousand dollars ($23,000.00). Of this amount we have given generously for benevolent purposes, missions, and education. Our building fund has now passed the three thousand dollar mark ($3,000.00).
The church year was also filled with many varied and meaningful activities. The “special days” through the church year have again been greatly successful. Some of the outstanding preachers and personalities of our nation have graced our pulpit as a result of these special occasions. The Cultural Committee of the church presented Mrs. Altona Trent Johns, wife of the former pastor of Dexter, in a piano concert. This event proved to be culturally and spiritually uplifting to the whole community.
Many other memorable things have taken place in the life of the church this year. Mention can only be made of a few. The Dexter Echo—the official organ of the church—continues to serve a most vital need in the life of the church. The editor of this paper, Mr. George W. Jones, has brought a competence and dedication to his work that can hardly be matched anywhere. Without remuneration of any kind, he works indefatigably to do this great job. Every member and friend of Dexter owes Mr. Jones a great debt of gratitude. The work of the Social and Political Action Committee still stands on the highest level of productivity. Mrs. Mary Burke the skilled and devoted chairman of this committee, has worked assiduously for the past three years to keep the church informed on the major social and political issues of our time. The various auxiliaries of the church are still active and working to further the total program of the church. The newest addition to the leadership of the auxiliaries—Mrs. [Louvenia] Herring of the B.T.U.; Mrs. [Elizabeth] Arrington of the Missionary Society; Mr. [James] Alexander of the Sunday School—have joined the ranks and worked untiringly to put over the program of the church. The official board has worked together as a unit and given the pastor unstinted support in all of his endeavors. All of these things represent the marvelous achievements of a church year that has now passed into history. They represent the spiritual highths that a church can reach when the pastor and members work devotedly together for the growth and development of God’s Kingdom.
Certainly, I cannot close this statement without a word of personal gratitude. One of the first things that comes to mind in this context is the trip that Mrs. King and I made to Ghana, West Africa during the spring of 1957. This trip was made possible by a generous contribution of twenty-five hundred dollars ($2,500.00) from the membership of Dexter. In less than two weeks you raised this sizeable sum of money without fanfare or public show. The spirit of goodwill and christian generosity evinced in making this trip possible will remain in our thoughts so long as the cords of memory shall lengthen. This trip, which included visits in other countries of Africa and several stops in Europe, was of tremendous cultural value to each of us, and made possible many contacts of lasting significance.
I must again express my appreciation to you for your willingness to share me with the nation. Through the force of circumstance, I was catapulted into the leadership of a movement which has succeeded in capturing the imagination of people all over this nation and the world. Little did I know on that brisk afternoon in December, 1956, when I accepted the presidency of the Montgomery Improvement Association, that I was accepting the presidency of an organization whose influence would rise to international proportions. Because of this unexpected response, demands upon my time have trippled. Due to the tremendous interest in the Montgomery Movement I have had to do an excessive amount of traveling, often at the expense of my physical health. Almost every week—having to make so many speeches, attend so many meetings, meet so many people, write so many articles, council with so many groups—I face the frustration of feeling that in the midst of so many things to do I am not doing anything well. In the midst of this almost unbelievable schedule under which I am forced to live, you have expressed abiding patience and sympathetic understanding. At moments when I have lagged behind in my church responsibilities you have refused to complain. You have carried on in my absence in a manner pleasing to God Himself. When I, along with my family, faced moments of great physical danger you were always at my side. When my critics, both white and Negro, sought to cut me down and lessen my influence, you always came to me with the encouraging words: “We are with you to the end.” For all of these expressions of moral support and Christian love, I am eternally grateful. These are things that come to bring a little light to the all too many dark moments of leadership.
I closed my message by urging you to turn your visions courageously toward the future. Our past achievements must not blind our eyes to future challanges. I must be honest enough to admit that I have not scratched the surface in doing the things at Dexter that I had hoped to do by this time. I had hoped to be well on the way toward the construction of a religious education building as well as doing several things of vital significance. These things are still in my mind, and I will need your wholehearted support to transform them from thin paper to thick action. We have a glorious opportunity to develop on this corner an institution that will be a real miniature Kingdom of God. This is our profound challange and our overwhelming responsibility.
[List of outstanding events, pastor's chores (including outside sermons and lectures), new members, pastor's recommendations, church officers and leaders, and financial report are omitted.]
1. Zelia S. Evans with J. T. Alexander, The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church 1877-1977 (Montgomery, Ala.: Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1978). p. 124.
DABCC-INP, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church Collection, In Private Hands