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Friends and Family of Martin Luther King Jr. '48 Reflect on the Man Outside the Limelight


Long before he was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ’48, Nobel Peace Prize winner, drum major for justice and the leader of the civil rights movement, he was ‘Tweed.”

King’s sister, Christine King Farris, talked about a tweed suit the future civil rights icon received when he graduated from middle school as she spoke during a Tuesday, April 1 panel discussion titled “King: The Morehouse Years (1944-48), An Intimate Conversation with Those Who Knew Him Best.”

“He loved it and just wore it all the time,” Farris said. “So the boys just called him Tweed.”

That was just one of the many tidbits about a youthful King that Farris along with King’s childhood and college friends Emmett LaCoste Proctor ’48, Juanita Spellers Stone and June Dobbs Butts recalled.

As the world prepares to commemorate the 40th anniversary of King’s death, the discussion was an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to hear about one of history’s most influential people as a regular person.

“We know him as an icon,” said Herman “Skip” Mason Jr., director of the Learning Resource Center and the College archivist. “But there are very few who are still around who knew him as a student here at Morehouse and as a child growing up in the Atlanta community.”

Proctor talked about how he and King used to play basketball together at the YMCA (“He was a better passer than shooter,” Proctor said of King) and worked – lazily – on a tobacco farm the summer before the two entered Morehouse.

“One time we were so far behind that darkness came on out there and both of us missed our bus,” Proctor said. “We got scared because both of us heard something in the bushes out there. Turned out to be a cow, though we didn’t know that at the time.”

King, who was mostly called “M.L.” by friends and family back then, was a very fun-loving person and prankster, said his childhood friends. But he also was a good student who entered Morehouse in 1944 at the age of 15.

Proctor said he and King played intramural basketball on a team called The City Slickers; visited the old Yates and Milton Drug Store to socialize and listen to jazz with other students and loved to dance at parties and dances with neighboring Spelman students.

King started Morehouse with an eye towards becoming a doctor. But he accepted the call to the ministry during his junior year.

“He had been toying with that,” Farris said. “Then I remember he became serious about going to the ministry -- so much so that he started reading the Bible. He was going to parties and things, but then he wasn’t going to parties with us for a little while. He was studying the Bible.”

Butts added: “The things I heard (King) talk about were very visionary and prophetic. I had a great sense that he was going to do things. I just didn’t know what. But I had a sense he was going to do something enormous and meaningful.”

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