By Sojourner Marable Grimmett
“Everyone has a story and if you don’t tell your story then it might not ever get told.” – Naomi Barber King
A black and silver butterfly burette rested perfectly in her snow white colored hair. She proudly stood in her living room, wearing a white sweater-set with black trimming, black pants. I was greeted with a bright, big smile, as I entered the home of Mrs. Naomi Barber King, located at a National Church Residences’ property just about 15 minutes southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. I extended my hand and she leaned in for a hug.
She led me by the hand, as together we circled the space, both admiring her numerous photographs and precious memories on the walls. The feeling of African American history and pride was overwhelming. I pictured myself living as her in her prime in the 1960’s, rallying for civil rights and “justice for all.” Old photos adorned the walls of her late husband Rev. Alfred Daniel “A.D.” King, brother-in-law Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and sister-in-law Coretta Scott King. Mrs. King picked up a celebratory card off of her maple coffee table and placed it in my hands. I opened the card and read it to myself quietly and then spoke the final words aloud, “Signed, Sister Coretta.”
Mrs. King was born in Dothan, Alabama in 1931, and was raised an only child to Bessie May Barber. At the age of 5 years old, her mother decided to relocate them from Dothan to Atlanta, Georgia to live with her brother. We sat down across from each other on comfortable flower patterned beige cushions as Mrs. King reflected on her childhood. “All of the memories of my childhood are based on the things that children do and enjoy. I had a wonderful childhood. I did well in school and took piano lessons. I was very well loved and protected.”
“What was your most fond memory as a child?” I asked. Her voice changed and the gaze in her eyes became cloudy as they watered a bit. She replied, “I met my beloved husband when we were 12 and 13 years old at the YMCA. We became friends and you might say that our puppy love evolved. As my boyfriend he gave me all of the attention that any girl needed, leaving no stones unturned. My most fond memory was when I turned 16, and he surprised me with a Sweet 16 birthday party.”
After graduating from high school, Mrs. King enrolled in Spelman College in 1949 and left school after her first year to marry A.D. King in 1950. Rev. A.D. King stayed in school and graduated from Morehouse College, soon after beginning his pastoral career.
Mrs. King’s bright smile turned into a worrisome frown when I asked the question “Can you talk to me about the day your home was bombed in Birmingham on May 11, 1963?”
“Everyone has a story and if you don’t tell your story then it might not ever get told,” she said. Her voice became soft as she cleared her throat and spoke:
“On a Saturday night before Mother’s Day it was around 11 o’clock in the evening and I was in the dining room area preparing the table decorations for Mother’s Day. My husband was in the bedroom working on his sermon, and our five beautiful children; Alveda, Alfred II, Derek I, Darlene, and Vernon were in their rooms. After I finished decorating the table, I sat in the living room area. I noticed that the picture window began to crack, and I shrugged my shoulders as if it was nothing, and continued to decorate the table.
The Lord would have it that my husband came to the front of the home and he went to the front door, opened it, and looked up and down the street. He said to me, “Naomi let’s get out of here.” It was so quiet you could hear a cotton ball fall on the carpet. By the time we got to the center of our home that was when the first bomb went off and then a second bomb exploded and the front of the house was blown away. I believe the bombs caused me to have permanent hearing loss in one of my ears. By God’s grace all 7 of us were able to go out of the back of the home, and that no one was hurt. God has a time planned for everybody and a purpose for everybody. It was our time at that time to bring focus to the world on what was happening in Birmingham.”
This wouldn’t be their last encounter with a bomb. When Rev. A.D. King pastored a church in Louisville, Kentucky, the church was also bombed. And tragically just one year after the assassination of his beloved brother in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, Rev. A.D. King was found dead at his home, lying in the family swimming pool.
To suggest that the King family has had more than their share of heartbreaks, does not begin to touch upon the trauma and devastation they have endured. Mrs. King has always relied on her faith. She reminds herself often to “fear not for God is with us always.” With all that she has been through, Mrs. King remains optimistic about Atlanta, and current conditions in the surrounding world. She believes that “there is good in people and that all problems can be worked out if we just sit down and talk to one another.”
We shared a warm smile of appreciation with each other when the interview concluded. Before leaving her home, Mrs. King pointed to a picture of Rev. A.D. King in her bedroom. She reflected on a time when her late husband asked a violinist to play a song while they were eating dinner at a restaurant. “That’s why I loved him so much. He was so thoughtful.” A true love story cut short too soon. Her life story is a testament of love, hope, and triumph.
Mrs. King continues to share her husband’s contributions and legacy as an activist and minister. She is a beloved mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and bright light to those in the church and communities she serves.
Author’s Note: Thank you to Dr. Babs Onabanjo, Co-Founder and CEO of the A.D. King Foundation for arranging the interview. More information can be found about Rev. Alfred Daniel “A.D.” King and Naomi Barber King at www.adkingfoundation.com.