It was at the Democratic National Convention of 1976 that he really came into his own.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., who died Sunday in Atlanta at the age of 84, was well known before 1976. In Atlanta, he had been a leading black activist, respected in city and church circles in the '30s and '40s. He became nationally famous later not only as the father of the crusader who bore his name, but also as the mentor, confidant and ally of his son. But his appearance at the New York convention eight years ago was a moment of hope and emotion that was entirely his own.
During the closing minutes of the convention at which Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale had been nominated for the first time, the stage was filled with smiling, celebrating politicians, and the hall reverberated with the joy of cheering partisans. Dr. King stepped to the rostrum to deliver the closing benediction, and within seconds the crowd was silent and enthralled. His words were less important for their form or content than for the mood they created, the sense of reconciliation and hope they evoked. The white southern governor and the black preacher, who was the son of a sharecropper, were brothers. The bitterness, anguish and struggle of the recent past seemed over; the moment was both nostalgic and promising.
Like Rose Kennedy's, Dr. King's life was marked by strong family bonds, deep religious faith and terrible personal tragedy. His son, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, was assassinated in 1968. Another son, the Rev. A. D. King died in a mysterious accident 16 months later. Their mother, Dr. King's wife of 48 years, was shot dead by a crazed killer as she played the organ in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1974. Yet Dr. King said often that he hated no one. "I'm hurt. I'm stunned. I'm lonesome. I don't want to live," he said a few months after his wife's death. But he added, "I've got a job to do every day I live. . . . So I'm going on with my job, going on being every man's brother." It was this spirit of love and determination that was reflected in his son's life, and that was a model for many others.