MLK 50: How men of faith changed the course of the country

NEW ORLEANS -- The charge for equality behind the Civil Rights Movement of the '50s and '60s was accelerated by a powerful element -- faith. And it was men of faith who fought -- and died -- for change.

In Louisiana, the Rev. A.L. Davis, named after Abraham Lincoln, was fighting injustice in New Orleans and would later become the city's first black councilman.

Rev. T.J. Jemison led the nation's first bus boycott, and there were other ministers all over the South who brandished bibles to smite Jim Crow.

It was time for the coming together of ministers to prepare the lists of grievances for blacks in local communities.

Enter the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, better known as the SCLC.

The story of Dr. Martin Luther King and the SCLC is one of many stories WGNO-News with a Twist is telling as part of MLK 50, the yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The famed civil rights leader would have been 89 years old today (Jan. 15, 2018).

A teenager, Don Hubbard, later a fierce fighter for the Congress of Racial Equality, would watch the birth of the SCLC at the New Zion Baptist Church.

"I grew up in a neighborhood with A.L. Davis, that was a friend of my family," Hubbard recalls. "I was always hanging around Shakespeare Park (now A.L. Davis Park) and if you wanted a cool drink of water, you would run from the park over to New Zion Baptist Church. Went over to the park one evening and they had a lot of cars parked in front of the church."

Inside that church, a national organization was forming, one that would pursue liberty through nonviolent mass action.

"They could do more as a cohesive unit, so therefore the call went out for ministers across the country to get together and organize," Hubbard says. "Black preachers were able to speak out because they didn't depend on the white community for their livelihood."

The ministers who formed the SCLC wanted either Davis or Jemison to head the group out of Baton Rouge. But the older ministers mentioned another young boy who was just out of school and had a little church. They said, "Why don't we let him head up the organization?"

That young man was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With MLK at the helm, the prayers of pastors became calls to action and a path toward the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It all started one night in New Orleans.

"I didn't know what that meant," Hubbard says. "I'm in high school, 1957. I'm just sitting in there listening to preachers talk. I had no idea that I was sitting in history."