Alcoa family attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral
By J.J. Kindred | (email@example.com)
On April 4, 1968, the nation received the shocking news of an assassin’s bullet in Memphis claiming the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
As those who supported racial equality mourned the loss of the face of its cause, an Alcoa family took a huge risk in order to travel to King’s hometown of Atlanta for his funeral.
Willie Mae Hannum, along with her sister Sara Moss, mother Mary Hood and family friend Marva Byers, all took that journey to pay their respects. With the exception of Byers, who was feeling ill, they shared their experience about that day with The Daily Times from Hannum’s Alcoa home Wednesday afternoon.
“Me and my mom were all working at Levi Strauss in Blount County, and we heard of the assassination, and it was my mom who said we were going to the funeral,” Moss said. “Back in that day, they didn’t let you off from work. We told them a friend of the family had passed, so that’s how we got to go.
“We left at night to go to the funeral, and we got there early that morning in Atlanta,” Moss continued. “I lived down there for six months to year, so I knew a few faces to be able to get through. When we got there, we started looking for someplace to have breakfast, and we were just driving around. It was a very somber morning and very little traffic, except at this one particular house. There was a lot of traffic and some Secret Service men we saw. We saw this guy carrying some flowers and I think I took a picture of him. He was carrying flowers to this house, and we were trying to figure out where those pretty flowers were going.”
Little did they know they wound up at a very significant stop.
“We ended up at Martin Luther King’s house and we didn’t even know it,” Hannum said, smiling. “God led us there. We got a chance to go into the home and sign the book. They took our cameras and wouldn’t allow us to take pictures inside. Their privacy had to be respected. We just went in and sat down. It was just a beautiful feeling just to be there.
“He lived in a neighborhood and it reminds you of your own,” Hannum continued. “It wasn’t like a great big mansion or something like that. You go in, and it was a modest home.”
Moss described the sad feelings upon hearing the news of King’s assassination, knowing that he symbolized hope of uniting all races.
“He had done so much for the nation itself, and he was a leader,” Moss said. “Everybody knew him. He was for human rights. He knew that we had suffered, and there was segregation and a lot of things happening back in the 60s. My kids told me, ‘Mama, I couldn’t have lived like that back then.’
“We came up where there were black fountains and white fountains,” Moss continued. “You couldn’t go to a restaurant like we go to now. They went into the restaurants and had sit-ins. We had sense enough to know (people showing racial prejudice) were not right. But we didn’t really know their danger. He knew what was right and what was wrong.”
“You dealt with different emotions,” Hannum added. “We just felt the need to go down, because that was our brother who had been slain. Regardless what our employers said as far as losing our jobs, we wanted to go down and respect a person that loved and cared so much about us. We all followed Mama, followed the leader.”
“That’s right. We were going no matter what,” Hood said, smiling.
Hannum, Moss and Hood said there were people from all across the nation that attended King’s funeral.
“We were all one. There were so many people and it was so hot that day,” Hannum said. “We stood on the side and watched the casket go by, and it was drawn by mules. Behind it was Mrs. King and dignitaries, and they were marching.
“Morehouse College is where they had the funeral, but we weren’t able to get inside that day, because there were lots of people. We sat on the ground and reveled in the sun. We were just so happy just to be there. At least got to go into the home and fellowship with people in there. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
MLK Celebration born
As time passed, Hannum, Moss and others had a heavy desire to keep King’s dream of racial quality and unity alive. In 1982, along with many other parts of the country doing the same in their respective areas, they helped found the Martin Luther King celebration in Alcoa and Blount County, featuring many events with churches and community organizations.
Hannum said songs and poems had been written during the first celebration, and services had been held at Rest Haven Missionary Baptist Church in Alcoa.
“There was nothing being done in the community to celebrate Martin Luther King and what he did for everybody,” Hannum said. “Rev. Stone N. Carr was the pastor and he listened to dreams to start doing some things in honor of Dr. King. Different ministries have grown where we started out as far as the celebration. We are all happy because all of the things that have branched off of Martin Luther King. We’ve done it year after year after year.”
Hannum said looking ahead, despite all the strides the nation has made, including having an African-American president, there is still a long way to go.
“Life gets deep and I think about Martin Luther King, and he wanted to see black people and white people holding hands,” Hannum said. “We say we don’t see color, but we do. If you have eyes you do, but you can see past that.”