King family to be honored on Stockbridge street

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

A street in downtown Stockbridge previously named for a 19th-century resident will now bear the name of one of it’s most famous natives.

The Stockbridge City Council voted unanimously Sept. 14 to designate portions of Berry Street and Railroad Street as Martin Luther King Sr. Heritage Trail in recognition of the senior King’s history in Stockbridge, where he was born and grew up.

Mayor Pro Tem Alphonso Thomas called Stockbridge “the ancestral home of the King family.”

Several months ago at Thomas’ urging a committee was formed to find a suitable street that could be renamed in honor of the King family. The council also previously allotted up to $5,000 for a King family plaque at City Hall, and when the cost came in almost $500 under that, the council authorized that the balance be used for some kind of special recognition such as a banquet.

The committee identified Berry Street as the most suitable for the renaming. Thomas said that after some research he learned that it was initially named after a man named Berry who was a blacksmith in town in the late 1800s.

Thomas added that, while cities all over the United State have roadways and other markers in recognition of the King legacy, there is only one mention of it in Stockbridge - a plaque at Red Oak Elementary School.

“Some of you have asked how the King family would react to this action,” said Thomas. “I received a letter from them today. They are ecstatic.”

The new road designation will start at its north end at the current intersection of North Berry Street and Love Street. From there it will travel south under the North Henry Blvd. overpass and all the way to the current intersection of South Berry Street and Railroad Street. From there the entirety of what is now Railroad Street will bear the new name.

A number of people in the audience spoke in favor of the move. A couple of business owners said that, while they agree with honoring the King family, they preferred to see some type of overlay that would leave the current street name intact and help them avoid the expense incurred from renaming the street where they do business.

Thomas said that he felt this would be just one part of the city’s continued efforts to revitalize the downtown business district, and he and other leaders would make sure the newly named street was kept up properly and cared for with pride.

According to biographical information listed online by the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, the elder King was born Michael King in Stockbridge on Dec. 19, 1897. He was the eldest son of James and Delia King.

He attended school from three to five months a year at the Stockbridge Colored School, according to the Stanford report. “We had no books, no materials to write with, and no blackboard,” he wrote. “But I loved going.”

As a child he attended Floyd Chapel Baptist Church on First Street in Stockbridge with his siblings and his mother. That church was founded in 1880, according to its web site, and its original building was torn down in 1949 and a new one constructed. King preached his first sermon at Floyd Chapel.

King moved to Atlanta in 1918, and shortly after decided to become a minister. He married the former Alberta Williams in 1926. Her father was pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The couple had a daughter and two sons by 1930, with Michael Luther Jr. the middle child.

He served as pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Locust Grove for a brief period. The church’s history lists him as pastor from 1930-32, although Wikipedia and the Stanford biography have him becoming the pastor of Ebenezer in 1931. He changed his name from Michael to Martin several years after that.