On Sunday June 30 1974, Alberta Christine Williams King played “The Lord’s Prayer” on the organ of Ebenezer Baptist, the church where her father, A.D. Williams, her husband, Martin Luther King Sr., and son, Martin Luther King Jr., all had served as pastors.
The song finished, and most of the congregation had their eyes closed and heads bowed in preparation for prayer when they heard a shout: “I’m taking over here!”
They looked up to see a young black man standing on a pew near the front of the church. He jumped down, bolted to the pulpit, faced the choir, and pulled out a gun.
“It seemed like I was watching a scene from a bad movie play out,” Christine King Farris, Alberta’s daughter, would recall in her 2009 memoir Through It All.
The man—Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr.—fired every round in his gun, hitting Alberta King, church deacon, Edward Boykin, and congregation member Jimmie Mitchell. As the gunman sprinted out the side door leading to Jackson Street, the sanctuary was chaotic.
Farris eventually made her way outside. As she later described the scene:
There were people everywhere. There was a throng of onlookers. When I looked in their eyes I saw what is often described as “the thousand-yard stare.” It was a kind of blankness I’d never seen before. There were bewildered and in shock. Many were crying; most had their hands pressed to their mouths in disbelief.
Farris and other family members made it to Grady hospital, where they learned that dean Boykin and Mrs. King had died.
That Sunday was “without question the worst day of my life,” wrote Farris. Her brother Martin had been assassinated in Memphis six years earlier, her brother A.D. drowned a year after that. “I thought I had made it through the worst days of my life. I was wrong.”
From Mike Moran at Medium:
Chenault was wrestled to the ground by bystanders while attempting to reload, yelling incessantly about “the war.” He later stated that the attack came from a hatred of Christians, and that he originally planned on killing Martin Luther King Sr., but his wife was simply closer.
He believed he had been ordained by god to commit this terrorist act, as he believed African-American Christian leaders were misleading Black America. His lawyers pled insanity and the ever-pacifist King family requested he avoid the death penalty.
Marcus Wayne Chenault died in prison of a stroke in 1995 at the age of 44.
Even after losing Martin, Jr., and A.D., the King family held fast to their faith and asked for mercy for Alberta’s murderer. That is strength, forgiveness, and mercy.
- Read more about Alberta King along with two other “Mothers of the Movement” (Louise Little, mother of Malcolm X, and Berdis Baldwin, mother of James Baldwin) in The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs.
- Read more about forgiveness here.