June 30, 1974: Alberta Christine Williams King is Murdered

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June 30, 1974: Alberta Christine Williams King is shot and killed by a 23-year-old black man named Marcus Wayne Chenault as she sat at the organ of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Chenault was a deranged gunman from Ohio who stated that he shot King because “all Christians are my enemies.”

Chenault died in prison, in 1995, after complications from a stroke.

Alberta Christine Williams King was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mother and the wife of Martin Luther King, Sr. She played a significant role in the affairs of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father, husband and son all served as pastor. She was shot and killed in the church 6 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alberta Williams met Martin L. King, Sr. (then known as Michael), whose sister Woodie was boarding with her parents, shortly before leaving for Hampton in 1921. After returning from college, she announced her engagement to King at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. She worked for a short period as a teacher before the marriage on Thanksgiving Day in 1926.

As female teachers were then not allowed to work while they were married, she had to give up her job as a teacher. Their first child, a daughter Willie Christine King, was born on September 11, 1927. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 while their third child Alfred Daniel Williams King was born on July 30, 1930 and named after his Grandfather. During this period, Michael King changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.

Alberta King worked hard to instill self-respect into her three children. In an essay written at Crozer Seminary, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that his mother “was behind the scenes setting forth those motherly cares, the lack of which leaves a missing link in life.” Martin Luther King Jr. was close to his mother throughout his life.

SUNDAY MORNING SHOOTING:
Alberta Christine Williams King played “The Lord’s Prayer” on the organ of Ebenezer Baptist, 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 and other family members made it to Grady hospital, where they learned that dean Boykin and Mrs. King had died.

Although Chenault’s lawyers pleaded insanity—the young man repeatedly said he was on a mission to kill all Christians—he was given a death sentence. This was later reduced to life in prison, in part at the insistence of King family members who opposed the death penalty.

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