The Angels of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did the famous civil rights activist ever encounter angels in his life?

Editor's Note: The quotes and stories featured in this article are culled from various sources that include essays and articles found on the internet, "Bearing the Cross" by David J. Garrow (Harper Perennial, 1999), and "The Beloved Community" by Charles Marsh (Basic Books, 2004).  An excerpt from "The Beloved Community" can be read here on Beliefnet.


Last year as we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the social studies class in my grandson’s middle school discussed the man and his ideas. However, it never once came up that Dr. King was a Baptist minister and his religious beliefs, as well as his philosophical beliefs, were the driving force behind his actions.

Included in Dr. King’s Christian beliefs were the biblical teachings about angels. He took courage in the knowledge that angels were helping those who worked for justice. He wrote, "The universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship (angels). Behind the harsh appearance of the world there is a benign power."

Dr. King and his wife discussed two incidents where angels played an important part in their journey. Dr. King himself had a life-altering experience when he was in the depths of despair. From his description of the incident, it seems likely that angels were present in his humble kitchen at the time. His wife, Coretta Scott King, was also certain that an angel saved her life and the life of their child at another time.

The first incident occurred one night when Martin Luther King was agonizing over the price his activities might exact against himself, Coretta, and their baby daughter, Yolanda, called Yoki. The decision to continue fighting for civil rights was not an easy one. It all came to a head one night in what Martin Luther King would later call his own “Gethsemane experience.”

He described that night:

“One night toward the end of January, I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off, the telephone rang. An angry voice said, 'Listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you, before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.'

"I hung up, but I couldn't sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached a saturation point. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.

"In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: 'I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.'

"At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced him before."
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William D. Webber
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