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Family reunion honors life, legacy of J.L. King

July 1, 2012


Sometimes, Marvin King gets asked if he is related to Martin Luther King, Jr.

King said he has not tracked his genealogy back far enough to find out, but he is the son of John Lucas King, Sr., who has a civil rights legacy all his own in Starkville. That legacy appears on a monument at J.L. King, Sr. Memorial Park, on a plaque on the park’s J.L. King, Sr. Memorial Center, and on a monument at the Starkville Public library.

“Dr. King did a great job nationwide,” Marvin said. “J.L. King did the best he could in Starkville and Oktibbeha County to improve the quality of life for our people. He didn’t receive a Nobel Peace Prize, but I tell you, (those monuments are) ... his Nobel Peace Prize.”

Marvin and several other relatives and descendants of J.L. King gathered at the J.L. King Center Saturday as the first stop on a tour honoring J.L. King’s life and legacy.

The King-Coleman reunion, which brings together the families of J.L. King and his wife, Lena Coleman King, is the first since a Memphis reunion in 2009, Janice Sampson, daughter of J.L. King, said, and it is the first time in about 10 years that the families have convened in Starkville. The family holds its reunions in different locales each time, she said, and this one brought in family from as far away as Harrisburg, Penn., including more than a few of J.L. King’s great-great-grandchildren.

“It’s a pleasure to be here today,” Sampson said. “It brings back memories, some good and some sad, but the good overpowers the sadness. We have more of the younger generation coming around to family reunions, so we wanted them to be able to come where they could get some history.”

She said she and Marvin are among three surviving children out of 10 children J.L. and Lena King had; one of her brothers, Maurice King, has died since the last reunion. Lena King Anderson, J.L. King’s oldest grandchild and organizer for the reunion, said it was Maurice who had the idea to return to Starkville for the reunion before he died.

“I wanted to set an example for the younger grandchildren (in organizing the reunion),” Anderson said. “We’re focusing on genealogy, and we’ll be doing a connection at our banquet in Columbus. We’re going to drop off a little information for (the Starkville Public Library) to include in their genealogy section. We’ll be adding to that section gradually. Because of this reunion, we’re hoping we have a lot of young people who are into technology that want to help us do some research.”

Marvin said J.L. and Lena King spent much of their lives as itinerant Methodist ministers, buying a home at the corner of Curry Street and what is now Dr. D.L. Conner Drive with the intent of retiring there. Lena King passed away when Marvin was still young, he said, and when J.L. King arrived in Starkville, segregation was at its height.

There was a proverb on the wall at the J.L. King Center on Saturday: “Don’t just look at the world; be a part of the view.” Marvin said this proverb fit J.L. King’s approach to Starkville’s inequalities.

“We had no black policemen here, we had no library for blacks; we had no recreation center,” Marvin said. “So he could have easily sat back and complained ... but what did he do? He became a part of the view.”

It was J.L. King who convinced city officials to hire Starkville’s first black police officer; years later, Marvin said, that police officer led J.L. King’s funeral procession. It was J.L. King who established the Westside Pool and Ball Park; years after his death, the city named the park and its community center in J.L. King’s honor, he said.

Marvin said J.L. King also established the first black library, at the current location of Turner’s Beauty Salon on Jefferson Street. When the city created the Starkville Public Library, he said, the city asked J.L. King to join in the development, and a memorial now stands at the library in his honor.

“He was also concerned about juveniles and those who were delinquents, so he went to the courts and asked if those young people who were having problems in the courts could be turned over to him, and let him work toward rehabilitating them, and that was done,” Marvin said. “So our house on the corner of Washington and Curry became something like a probation office, where the young people had to come for counseling or they would go to what was called then reform school. Many young people’s lives were turned around as a result of J.L. King touching their lives and working with them, and they went on to success.”

The family visited this home on their tour, along with Turner’s Beauty Salon, the Starkville Public Library, and more. The J.L. King Center was only the first stop on this tour, and Starkville School District Family Centered Programs staff, including director Joan Butler, showcased recent renovations to the center and familiarized them with recent changes to Starkville as a whole.

“What an impressive legacy your father and grandfather (J.L. King) has left for us,” Butler said. “He certainly was a visionary. He was a leader, and we are very honored today to be able to speak in his memory.”

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