Photo by Bill Powell of Albert Paul Brinson at the King tomb in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District in Atlanta.

By John D. Pierce

ATLANTA— “It was the church that made us who we were,” said Albert Paul Brinson, standing in the historic sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church, that he attended as a youth and later served as associate minister to co-pastors Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. “It was our hope.”

Brinson, 79, told participants in the daylong Nurturing Faith Experience on civil rights recently about how the elder King (“Reverend King Sr.,” as he called him) was firm but loving — peeking out the front door and pointing at his watch when it was time for Albert and other youngsters to come inside for worship.

Brinson lovingly mocked his mentor pausing during a sermon to stop the talking among the youth in the balcony. “He’d call you out,” said Brinson. “‘Albert!’ ‘A.D.!’ ‘M.L.!’”

Albert was 8 when his father left his mother with three little boys living in public housing in the neighborhood now well identified with the civil rights movement in Atlanta and beyond. He often hung out in the King home.

The elder King baptized young Albert in the basement of that church — now restored to its 1960s appearance and protected as part of a national historic site. He also filled a deep personal void.

“Rev. King Sr. was the father image for me my entire life,” said Brinson.


Brinson said Rev. King Sr. came from rural roots, which showed most clearly when the two would travel backroads from Atlanta to Montgomery where Martin Jr. (or, “M.L.,” as Albert called him) served as pastor in the latter half of the ’50s and rose to prominence as a civil rights leader.

Brinson learned to drive on those trips during which the elder King insisted on playing “Dog!” — a travel game that built points according to who could first spot a dog of a certain color or type along the way.

In addition to having to keep his eyes on the road, Brinson suffered another strategic disadvantage in the game: Rev. King’s rural upbringing.

Brinson told of passing an old farmhouse and hearing Rev. King shout, “Dog! Dog!” But Albert saw no dogs. He didn’t know to look under the porch where shade was provided for the hounds.


The seriousness of the civil rights movement and the sacrificial role the Kings played in the quest for justice belie a family trait that few know about today, said Brinson. “They were a funny family.”

Photo by John D. Pierce at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Humor was spread widely — and used effectively when needed.

Brinson recalled the time Martin Luther King Jr., tongue in cheek, said aloud to his teen-aged, younger brother figure: “Albert, you could never get into Morehouse.”

Those words — meant in jest and as motivation — crossed the years and rang in Brinson’s ears when his portrait was placed in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College as a way to honor a distinguished alumnus whose own contributions to civil rights were faithful.

“They were always joking and playing around,” said Brinson of the King family, with whom he retains close ties, especially Christine King Farris, the oldest and only remaining sibling of Martin Luther King Jr.

Humor conveys humility, Brinson suggested. “We live in a selfish culture now, but M.L. was not like that.”

Brinson said he learned from the Kings to see humor — in even serious situations — as a way to gain better perspectives. Such as the time Brinson and other Atlanta college students wrote “The Appeal for Human Rights” that was published widely and set the stage for the student sit-in movement.

Government officials opposed to civil rights sought to discredit the effort by saying that these black college students could not have written such a well-stated document.

“They said the Russians did it!” Brinson recalled with a smile. “That’s funny now…”

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