Today, thousands of volunteers across the country will honor the life of Civil Rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. when they roll up their sleeves for a variety of service projects.
In the Delaware Valley, some of those efforts will unfold in places where King spent formative years.
Before becoming the face of the Civil Rights Era, King was a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa, near Chester.
While studying there in the late 1940s, King became close friends with Rev. J. Pius Barbour, who led nearby Calvary Baptist Church in Chester and had also been a friend of King’s father.
Week after week, the pair and other preachers would regularly discuss scripture, but also various issues facing the community and the nation.
Dr. Rev. Bayard Taylor, who heads Calvary Baptist these days, said those gatherings and King’s relationship with Barbour laid the groundwork for his leadership down the line.
“That’s when the social consciousness of the Civil Rights Movement began,” said Taylor.
While studying at Crozer, King may have also visited family in nearby Camden when he wasn’t at school.
It’s strongly believed by many in the community that he did, but there is no historical documentation to date.
Fr. Michael Doyle, who leads Sacred Heart Church in South Camden, has been convinced, however, since he heard about a social worker’s home visit to 940 Newton Avenue many years ago.
“When she went there, she noticed on the wall of the living room just ordinary pictures and Martin Luther King is in the pictures,” said Doyle. “Then she asked the woman of the house about the pictures and she was happy to tell Susan that the pictures were of Martin Luther King because he used to come there to that house on weekends.”
A nonprofit recently purchased the rundown, brick property with hopes of restoring it.