Receiving the Call
Beset by doubt about his path, young Martin Luther King, Jr. heard Jesus' voice.
The neon sign that appeared on a building in full view of the car indicating their arrival at the Montgomery City jail must have seemed an unlikely answer to prayer, though appreciated in its own way. Inside, King was fingerprinted and locked into a crowded holding cell. "Strange gusts of emotion swept through me like cold winds on an open prairie," he recalled.
As he slowly adjusted to the shock of the new surroundings, he found himself the center of attention. A crowd of black inmates gathered excitedly around him, and King was surprised to find two acquaintances, who offered their hearty greetings, locked up with the rest of them. King spent the evening listening to stories of thieves and drunks and drifters, and in exchange he gave the men a vivid account of his afternoon. Several asked if King could help get them out of jail. "Fellows, before I can assist in getting any of you out," he said, "I've got to get my own self out," and the cell was filled with laughter.
King had crossed the first threshold of fear and there discovered that presence of mind could still be summoned. In the spirited company of these unlikely allies-movement people, "vagrants," and "serious criminals"-he realized that even jail could be endured for the sake of doing the right thing. "From that night on, my commitment to the struggle for freedom was stronger than ever before," he said. "Yes, the night of injustice was dark; the 'get-tough' policy was taking its toll. But in the darkness I could see a radiant star of unity."
King's release later the same night no doubt made the radiant star even easier to behold. Dozens of church members and friends in the protest had steadily gathered in the parking lot throughout the evening and waited for their pastor.
But whatever momentary relief King felt was gone the next evening when he returned to his parsonage, exhausted after another long day of organizational meetings. Coretta and their two-month-old daughter, Yolanda, were already asleep, and King was eager to join them. He would not be so lucky. The phone rang out in the midnight silence, and when King lifted the receiver, a drawl released a torrent of obscene words and then the death threat: "Listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you; before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery."