Every American student knows that Dr. Martin L. King Jr. was assassinated by James Earle Ray, but very few are aware of the murder of his mother, Alberta Williams King.
On Sunday June 30, 1974, church service was being held at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Mrs. King was acting as the church organist and had just finished playing “The Lord’s Prayer,” all heads were bowed when a young black man identified as Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr., 21, yelled out “I’m taking over here.”
Chenault then ran to the pulpit of the church and pulled out two guns. He emptied the pistols into Alberta King, church deacon, Edward Boykin, and congregation member Jimmie Mitchell. As the congregation erupted in chaos, he ran from the church. Dr. King’s sister, Christine King Farris wrote in her 2009 book Through it All, “There were people everywhere. There was a throng of onlookers. When I looked in their eyes I saw what is often described as ‘the thousand-yard stare.’’ It was a kind of blankness I’d never seen before. They were bewildered and in shock. Many were crying; most had their hands pressed to their mouths in disbelief.”
The victims of the shooting were rushed to Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital and it was later announced that Alberta King and deacon Edward Boykin had died from their injuries.
Chenault told police when he was arrested that he traveled from Dayton, Ohio, to Atlanta “on a mission,” and that “Black ministers were a menace to Black people and must be killed.” Chenault’s lawyers pleaded that their client was insane. Despite these pleadings to the court, Chenault was found guilty and sentenced to death in Georgia’s electric chair. However, the King family was opposed to the death penalty and at the family’s insistence, Chenault’s death sentence was reduced to life in prison. Chenault suffered a stroke in prison and died in 1995 at the age of 44.