As a nation, we are reminded once a year of the magnitude of change that can come from one person. Quotes fill social media feeds and are plastered on school walls. A new generation learns about the trials and tribulations of a past era. The sound bite of a distict voice, with a shake of passion, is played on the radio and TV. A lessor known piece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s story took place right here in Dublin GA.
On April 17, 1944, 15-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his first public speech at the historic First African Baptist Church. The Colored Elks Clubs of Georgia held their state convention that year at the church and sponsored an oratorical competition, which Dr. King won. A desire to inspire social change was planted in young Martin Luther King, Jr. that day, both from the positive experience of public speaking, and from a very negative experience on his way home that evening.
On the return trip to Atlanta from Dublin, King was asked, for the first time in his life, to relinquish his seat and stand in the rear of the bus with his teacher. Dr. King later wrote of the experience, “That night will never leave my memory. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life.” The speech King had given hours earlier detailed the struggle for true equality. King spent the next twenty four years of his life fighting for the constitutional rights of the people of his race.
Working on a Dream
Dr. King’s ties to Dublin GA continued after that fateful day. A mentor to King at Morehouse College, Dr. Brailsford Brazeal, was born and raised in Montrose which is a small community in Laurens County outside of Dublin. Julie Driger, who served as Interim Mayor for Dublin in 2021, marched with Dr. King and helped him organize meetings and marches. During the Civil Rights Era, when passing through Dublin, King stayed at the Dudley Motel, which was established for African Americans traveling US Highway 80, a primary thoroughfare across the Southeast at the time.
Keeping the Dream Alive
Today, Dr. King’s first public speech is memorialized in Dublin GA at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument Park directly across the street from the First African Baptist Church. The monument features a mural and sculpture by Georgia artist, Corey Barksdale, and an audio station. The monument and church are part of Georgia’s Footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Trail.
As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once again, take with you his words, “everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.”
Photo Credit: theswickynator via IG