No tour of South-View Cemetery would be complete without talking about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was initially buried at South-View after his untimely death. Several of his family members are buried there that greatly influenced his path in life.
The Rev. Adam Daniel (A.D.) Williams was the grandfather of Martin Luther King, Jr. As the son of slaves Willis and Lucretia Williams in Greene County, Ga., he was probably born in 1861 but celebrated his birthday on January 2, 1863, the day after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. His hopes of following his father into preaching were evident from an early age. Taught by several ministers in the community, Rev. Williams earned his license to preach in April 1888.
In January 1893, he was called to the pastorate of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Although Ebenezer had only 13 members when he arrived, the congregation grew to 400 members by 1903. Williams enrolled at Atlanta Baptist College (later named Morehouse College) and in May 1898, received his certiﬁcate from the ministerial program. Rev. Williams married Jennie Celeste Parks in 1899. In 1903, they welcomed their only surviving daughter, Alberta, who later became the mother of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In September 1895, Rev. Williams joined 2,000 other delegates and visitors at Friendship Baptist Church to organize the National Baptist Convention, the largest black organization in the U.S. By 1904, Rev. Williams was president of the Atlanta Baptist Ministers’ Union, and chairman of both the executive board and ﬁnance committee of the General State Baptist Convention.
In 1906, Rev. Williams helped organize the Georgia Equal Rights League to protest the white primary system. Twelve years later, Williams became branch president of the NAACP chapter he helped found. During his tenure, the branch grew to 1,400 members within ﬁve months and spearheaded a major effort to register black voters.
Daughter Alberta married Martin Luther King, Sr. (known as “Daddy King”) in 1926. Rev. Williams’ son-in-law succeeded him as pastor of Ebenezer in 1931 after his death.
Near the front gates of South-View is the tomb of Rev. King Sr. and Alberta. After Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. in 1968 by James Earl Ray, his body was placed in this tomb until the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (known as The King Center) opened in the 1970s when his remains were moved to a new tomb there. His wife, Coretta Scott King, joined him there when she died in 2006.
The son of sharecroppers Delia (Linsey) and James Albert King, Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was born Michael King in Stockbridge, Ga. in 1899. As a young man, he moved to Atlanta, where his sister Woodie was boarding with Rev. A.D. Williams. After Dr. King Sr. started courting Alberta, her family encouraged him to finish his education and become a preacher.
In 1926, Dr. King Sr. started his ministerial degree at the Morehouse School of Religion and married Alberta at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The couple had three children: Willie Christine King (Farris), Martin Luther King, Jr. (born Michael King, Jr.), and Alfred Daniel Williams King.
Dr. King Sr. became leader of Ebenezer Baptist Church in March 1931 after the death of his father-in-law. By 1934, he’d become a much respected leader of the local church. He changed his name (and that of his eldest son) from Michael King to Martin Luther King after becoming inspired during a trip to Germany by the life of theologian Martin Luther, although he never changed his name legally.
Dr. King Sr. was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church for 40 years. In 1948, his son, Martin Jr., joined him at Ebenezer as an associate pastor. Despite theological differences, father and son would later serve together as joint pastors at the church.
Dr. King Sr. headed Atlanta’s Civic and Political League, and NAACP branch. After his son’s assassination in 1968, he lent his support to former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter during his 1976 Presidential campaign.
Dr. King Sr. endured more than one family tragedy. On June 30, 1974, while Dr. King Sr. was out of town, Alberta was playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church during a service when she was shot and killed. The gunman, 21-year-old Marcus Wayne Chenault, claimed he planned to shoot Dr. King Sr. because of his hatred for Christians but in his absence, had shot his wife instead. Cheanualt was given a life sentence and died of a stroke in prison in 1995.
Dr. King Sr.’s younger son, Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King. Jr., died in 1969 at the age of 39 when he drowned in the swimming pool at his home. After suffering a stroke in 1984, Dr. King Sr. died and was buried at South-View beside his wife.
There are two other graves I’d like to mention. The first is Carrie Cunningham and her son, McAllister “Red” Riggins. Had it not been for Red’s outrageous behavior, Atlanta’s famed Royal Peacock club might never have opened in 1949.
“Mama” Cunningham already owned and managed the Royal Hotel on Auburn Avenue. Hoping to keep her wayward musician son out of trouble, she opened the Royal Peacock (formerly the Top Hat, where the Whitman sisters performed). Cunningham already had experience in the entertainment world, having worked in large traveling vaudeville troupes as a girl.
Thanks to Cunningham’s business skills, the Royal Peacock became the hot spot for up and coming talent. Artists like James Brown, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole played there as relative unknowns who went on to become stars.
Cunningham was also a confidante and adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr. and newspaper columnist Ralph McGill. She also enjoyed the company of Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Mohammed Ali and other African-American celebrities.
Carrie Cunningham died in 1973 and the Royal Peacock’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed since that time. Currently, it’s a hip hop club but the Royal Peacock has yet to recapture the status it had once up on a time.
The last person I’d like to talk about is a man most known for an iconic picture in a magazine. In it, he’s weeping as he plays the accordion, mourning for his lost friend. But there was much more to Graham Jackson, Sr. than a photo.
A native of Portsmouth, Va., Jackson could master almost any instrument, giving piano and organ concerts at high school age. Sponsored by a wealthy patron, Jackson studied at the college level but when the patron died, Jackson stopped his formal training until he moved to Georgia.
During his early days in Atlanta, Jackson attended Morehouse College and Atlanta University. In 1928, he joined the faculty at Washington High School and served as its music director until 1940.
Jackson became a personal friend of Eleanor and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, having played command performances in Washington, D.C. He was present in Warm Springs, Ga., when Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. The two had been collaborating on a version of Antonin Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home” the day before.
Jackson became a national icon when Life photographer Ed Clark took a photo of Jackson playing “Goin’ Home” as Roosevelt’s funeral train left Warm Springs.
Jackson served in the Navy from 1942 to 1945, receiving six honorary citations for his war bond fundraising (yielding more than $3,000,000 in sales) and Navy recruitment work.
Jackson went on to appear on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town and formed the Graham Jackson Choir, which toured extensively. He also made guest appearances playing the huge Moller organ at Atlanta’s Fox Theater (nicknamed the “Mighty Mo”).
In later years, Jackson entertained with a combo and as a solo Hammond organ artist at Atlanta’s Johnny Reb’s Restaurant and Pittypat’s Porch. He was named Official Musician of the State of Georgia by then-Governor Jimmy Carter in 1971 and was inducted posthumously into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1985.
There’s so much more to South-View Cemetery than what I’ve written in these three installments, so I’m returning next week to wrap things up in Part IV.