As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), this article from 1957 showcases King’s early life and the incident that led him to pursue a life of social justice.

The Preacher Who Fights

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is called “Little Mike” by most clerical associates, “The King” by worshipful followers, and “Tweed” by his boyhood chums.

June 8, 1957

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—The Martin Luther King Jr. story is a saga that almost ended shortly after it began in Atlanta, Ga.

Some 22 years before Little Mike King was even 6, he was playing alone in the second floor hallway of the comfortable 13-room frame house at 501 Auburn Ave. where he had been born on Jan. 15, 1929.

As he leaned over the upstairs banister, he suddenly lost his footing and plunged head first some 20 feet to the ground floor and then catapulted through an open cellar door to the basement.

He got up and walked away.

Some worshipful followers of the 28-year-old minister who was thrust into international fame by his astute leadership of the successful Montgomery bus boycott movement tend to see in this incident the hand of Divine Providence.

“The Lord had His hand on him even then,” one elderly Montgomery domestic remarked last May while she and 50,000 other colored persons were trudging to and from work during the bus boycott.

Young King himself is amused by such interpretations, although he will add with a twinkle in his slightly slanted eyes:

“Well, I guess God was looking out for me even then. He must have given me a hard head just for that purpose.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was born and named as such in a two –story Auburn Ave. frame house.

But through a two-generation series of misunderstandings he was, until recently, listed officially in the Atlanta vital statistics as Michael Luther King Jr.

So Atlanta’s proudest son in the colored community is simultaneously called M.L. by his intimate friends; “Little Mike” by most clerical associates and the “The King” by his most worshipful followers here.

Young King always loved to go on shopping tours with his father and he recalls that one such trip when he was about six brought him his first remembered consciousness of the problem of segregation in relatively progressive Atlanta.

They’d gone together to store at downtown Five Points near Peachtree St. to get M.L. a new pair of shoes, and they had taken seats in the front of the store. A young white clerk murmured politely:

“I’ll be happy to wait on you if you’ll just move back to those seats in the rear.”

“Nothing wrong with these seats,” the elder King had bristled. “We’re quite comfortable here.”

“Sorry,” said the less comfortable clerk, “but you’ll have to go back there.”

“We’ll either buy shoes sitting right here or we won’t buy any shoes at all,” the father retorted before stalking indignantly from the store with his young son.

The Elder King recalled the incident only faintly the other day as one of a series of slights and inconveniences, but Martin Luther King Jr. still remembers it vividly.

“It was probably the first time I had seen Daddy so furious,” he says, “and I guess I was hurt for the first time too. Daddy had always been an emotional man, and I can remember him muttering:

“I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I am never going to accept. I’ll oppose it to the day I die.’

“So I guess this thing started rubbing off on me right then.”