A big dose of inspiration came my way this week while visiting Montgomery. Shirley Cherry, a retired school teacher and volunteer tour guide, showed me through the parsonage that was bombed on Jan. 30, 1956.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the young pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, lived in the house from 1954 to 1960. His wife, Coretta, and baby daughter, Yolanda, were home at the time of the bombing.
The fuller story of the Dexter Avenue church and parsonage (and it is a story full of significance) will be saved for a feature story I’ll write for an upcoming issue of Baptists Today, an autonomous, national news journal based in Macon, Ga.
But the passion and conviction of Ms. Cherry were so intense and contagious that her part of the story could stand alone. She returned to her native Alabama after retirement as a teacher and librarian in a Rhode Island school system where she was the only minority.
“Welcome to where the Kings lived, loved and sacrificed to make the world a better place,” she said to me with a smile.
Personally, she said, it was tempting for her to continue living on the New England coast. But coming to Montgomery to help tell this episode in the struggle for human rights was too compelling.
“I don’t need a job,” Ms. Cherry told me. “But I’m a direct beneficiary of what was done here.”
While I’ll save much for the upcoming feature, Ms. Cherry shared a story with every step through the house — from the bedroom where little Yolanda was sleeping on the night of the dreadful violence, to the dining room where the SCLC was formed, to the pastor’s study where numerous planning meetings were held during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Then there was the phone in the hallway where a young pastor’s wife and mother received 30-40 calls a day threatening the lives of her family.
Ms. Cherry saved our visit to kitchen for last — and did not turn on the lights. With great passion she told of the night that Dr. King, just 27 years old, was so gripped by fear that he couldn’t sleep.
Sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, he wrestled with God into the night. Many consider it to be the major turning point in the Civil Rights movement.
He confessed to God that he was losing his courage. Earlier he had shared with his pastor friend Ralph David Abernathy that “fears are creeping upon my soul.”
But in the wee hours alone in that kitchen, God removed the fears that enabled this young pastor to be the drum major for peace and justice, and to lead a movement that would change a nation and yet cost him his life.
“All of the fears left him,” said Ms. Cherry of that prayerful night. “He just wanted to be obedient to God’s commands.”
Not only does Shirley Cherry tell the story well — but she lives with gratitude for how the faithfulness of others can make life better for all of us today.
“It’s all about living the legacy,” said the retired educator who keeps on teaching.
[PHOTOS: Tour guide Shirley Cherry in the Inter- pretive Center next door to the Parsonage Museum; her hand on the hallway phone that received dozens of threatening calls each day; and the Rev. Michael Thurman (with me) who is the current pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church near the state capitol building in Montgomery.]
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.