Interview with William Rutherford

There's a wonderful story you tell about Dr. King as a man, as a person, that takes place with that last organizing, uh, organizing meeting of the Poor People's Campaign. Can you tell me that story?


Well, that is a story, it's one of my favorite stories about Dr. King and I think it's a real measure of the man, ah. Here is a man who had met kings and princes, who had been with prime ministers and leaders of secular world and the, ah, religious world and was very much a personality himself and he had been able to put this call out that brought in, as I said, several hundred, ah, civil rights workers from around the country at their own expense, hitchhiking, walking, Lord knows how they all got to Atlanta, but they all came to Atlanta under their own steam, more or less. Ah, and we're in the meeting where we were conducting the briefing, the orientation and the planning and the logistical arrangements, presentations, and so on and Dr. King was to address the meeting. And he came very, very late, ah, for various reasons. It was shortly before his death and I have other thoughts, I think he was, really, ah, had an intuition that something serious was going to happen or something really perhaps fatal was going to happen to him. But he came to the meeting really rather late and there were these very impatient people who had come because he had asked, because the leader had asked to come. And they were sitting waiting for him very impatiently within, ah, the hall, inside of Ebenezer Church, I think the Education Building of Ebenezer Church and, ah, I was waiting for him on the sidewalk outside of the building and so when he arrived I was really just tremendously relieved that we could continue with, ah, the meeting and the orientation sessions. So when he came I literally grabbed and said, you know, "Martin, Martin, we're all waiting for you. We're all waiting for you." He said, "Sure," he said, "I'm here," he says, "Everything is okay, everything is going to be alright." And as we went into the church building there was the, ah, janitor cleaning this spotless entry hall and as we went in, Dr. King stopped, the meeting could wait for another minute at least, and he said, "How is your wife?" And the janitor looked up and with a nice smile he said, "Well, she's doing right poorly, Doc." And Dr. King said, "Well, ah, say hello for me and I hope her back gets better." His concern at that moment was not about changing America and the world and so on. But he saw a human being before him and he was concerned about the health and the well-being of the wife of the janitor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. And I found that most impressive. And I think you can use that to apply in many, many ways to Dr. King's thoughts and concerns which basically always came back to the individual, to the person and the impact or result of situations and events upon individuals.