"Many of the younger family members just didn't understand how he could say, 'Don't hate, it's too big a burden to bear,' " recalled Christine King Farris, Martin Luther King Sr.'s only surviving child, as mourners trekked through her father's living room on Tuesday night, past mounds of fried chicken, pork chops, cabbage and cornbread.
Daddy King's black bowler hat sat atop the TV set, beside a book on segregation in the South. On the TV screen, Mr. T was tossing around villains.
But nonviolence was the message of the man known as "Daddy" King, who died on Sunday and was eulogized at his funeral yesterday by thousands of mourners in Atlanta, where he had lived since 1915.
"Be thankful for what we have left," King had exhorted the family, even as he grieved mightily and played father to his own sons' children.
He had watched son and namesake, Martin Luther King Jr., receive the Nobel Peace Prize, only to lose him in 1968 to an assassin, James Earl Ray, in Memphis. The next year, his youngest son, the Rev. Alfred D. King of Atlanta, drowned in his backyard pool.
Then, one hot Sunday morning in 1974, he was in his Ebenezer Baptist Church when, a few feet away, a young black man stood up and gunned down his beloved wife, Alberta, as she was playing the Lord's Prayer on the church organ. Marcus Wayne Chenault later said he meant to shoot the Rev. King.
"How much more can a man take?" Daddy King asked a close friend. But he endured, preaching for one and all to abandon hatred. Remarkably, he held no malice toward the killers who served up so much pain to his family.
"I don't hate either one," he wrote in his 1981 autobiography. "There is no time for that, and no reason, either. Nothing that a man does takes him lower than when he allows himself to fall so low as to hate anyone."
In 1976, his granddaughter, Esther Darlene King, died of a heart attack while jogging.
Daddy King certainly had reason to hate. Born in 1899, he grew up poor in rural Stockbridge, Ga., just southeast of Atlanta, one of 10 children, a grandson of slaves. He plowed cotton behind a mule to help his father, an embittered sharecropper. His mother was a cleaning woman for a white banker. At 6, he watched several whites rob and lynch a black man.
And soon he would feel the boot of an angry white farmer for hesitating to fetch a bucket of water. His father threatened to kill the man and had to hide in the woods for months.
At 16, Mike King marched into Atlanta, barefoot and determined. He found work in the rail yards, moved on to a tire shop, then landed a job driving a truck. By day, he worked; at night, he put himself through high school.
But he had a booming voice and a talent for preaching. On alternate Sundays, he tended two small churches, becoming associate pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church several years after marrying the pastor's daughter in 1926. He was 32 when he worked his way through Morehouse College.
Meanwhile, he was tending his flock, marching members down to the bank, where he cajoled officers to lower loan rates so blacks could buy homes. City judges routinely released young blacks he had vouched for into his custody, including one killer who became a church deacon and never went back to jail.
He was fearless in an era when it was dangerous for blacks to speak up. "I don't want to waste time," he would say, marching into a store, a police station or a hospital where blacks had been rebuffed. "Who's in charge around here? I want to see the top man."
He was so disgusted with voting restrictions that he led an orderly protest march downtown in 1936, "something no living soul in the city had ever seen," he recalled. He'd just tried to register to vote at Atlanta City Hall, where he was directed to a "Colored" elevator. It was broken, and the only stairway available was marked "Whites Only." But he passed a "literacy" test, paid his poll tax and became one of the few blacks on the voting rolls.
Three children grew up around his quest for black dignity. He joined the NAACP at a time when it was considered more radical than the Black Panthers. He lobbied city hall to integrate the police force.
But when M. L., as he called Martin Jr., championed the Montgomery bus boycott as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and began to march, his father balked. He was worried about violence. M. L. argued that his conscience was on the line. Reluctantly, Daddy King came around, supporting the movement of a new generation.
Soon, M. L. was a target. After he was arrested and sentenced to six months in Georgia's Reidsville State Penitentiary in 1960 for driving without a valid license, M. L.'s wife, Coretta, burst into tears. "Coretta, you don't see me crying, do you?" bristled Daddy King. "We're not going to take this lying down. We're going to fight."
Within hours, John F. Kennedy, candidate for president, was on the phone asking what he could do. "I'd appreciate you doing anything you can," said Daddy King, a Nixon supporter with grave doubts about a Catholic as president. His son was released the next day.
"I've got a lot of preacher friends around this country," Daddy King said at a press conference, "and if you put them all together, it's a mighty suitcase full of votes. I'm calling all of them to dump that suitcase in the Kennedy campaign."
Later, when J. Edgar Hoover dispatched agents to shadow his son and tap his phones, M. L. went to his father for advice. "Go talk to him face to face, man to man," he said. And the younger King flew to Washington to meet the FBI director.
Then he was gone, and Daddy King reached into an open coffin in grief. "Answer me, M. L.," he shouted, "answer me!"
Although he retired from the pulpit in 1975, he still had "music in my throat," as he put it, and gave the benediction at the 1976 Democratic National Convention after Jimmy Carter was nominated for president.
He often waved his cane to make a point, and in recent years, held forth from a wheelchair. Since 1981, he had experienced heart trouble, bouncing back from congestive heart disease in 1982, and again last month.
His grandson, the Rev. Dexter King, 30, A. D.'s son, and his pregnant wife, Janice, lived with Daddy King, and he was anxious to see the first great-grandchild on the King side. "I want to see it," he would say.
Last Sunday, he attended church, polished off his favorite lunch -- Popeye's takeout fried chicken and a strawberrry milkshake -- and climbed the stairs, past his wife's portrait in her wedding gown, to take a nap. He complained of a slight chill. His family was close by, and he summoned Janice to his bedside, slipped her $180 for the unborn baby and dozed off. Soon, he began laboring for breath, and an ambulance rushed him to a hospital, where he died at 5:41 p.m. He was 84 and alert to the end.