Tom Houck, MLK’s family driver, retraces old routes with a brand new civil legal rights tour
Tom Houck before a mural in the MLK Junior. National Historic Site
Photograph by Todd Burandt
Tom Houck can continue to recite the Sunday lunch menu from memory: “Fried chicken, pork, vegetables, coleslaw, squash, cornbread, and sweet tea,” he ticks off, between snaps of gum, in the trademark chainsaw-in-a-gravel-pit rumble. We’re idling outdoors the midcentury redbrick house using the white-colored trim at 234 Sunset Avenue, the house of Martin Luther King Junior., where Houck had that meal half a century ago.
Houck, who moved from Boston to Florida like a teen, was expelled from his Jacksonville senior high school for getting involved in a 1965 march in Selma which was organized as a result of Bloody Sunday. After ongoing to volunteer for civil legal rights causes, he showed up in Atlanta in 1966 to assist with Southern Christian Leadership Conference voter registration efforts. On his first day here, the shaggy-haired 19-year-old was awaiting a good start while watching SCLC headquarters on Auburn Avenue when King spotted him and asked Houck home for supper. Within the meal, Houck and also the Nobleman glued over their Boston connections (Martin and Coretta met when she was attending the brand new England Conservatory and that he what food was in Boston College). Later that mid-day, Coretta lamented the family’s requirement for a person. And thus for the following nine several weeks, Houck drove the 4 King children to classes at Spring Street Elementary and from time to time ferried Dr. and Mrs. King out and about. Weekly salary: $15 (later elevated to $25).
In the chauffeuring gig, Houck became a member of the employees of SCLC, helping Hosea Johnson organize marches and protests, and soliciting volunteers for that Poor People’s Campaign. He was arrested in Birmingham while employed by the SCLC. Certainly one of his toughest assignments: coordinating traffic flow throughout the funeral in Atlanta following King’s 1968 murder. Since that time Houck has parlayed his tenure among the youngest SCLC staffers-and something of couple of whites-right into a career, talking to on political campaigns and company diversity initiatives, and appearing on WGST radio and also the Georgia Gang. He’s even been an Atlanta magazine contributor.
This month Houck draws on his personal background and wide circle of buddies with a brand new endeavor: Civil Legal rights Tours, Atlanta. Organized together with Atlanta Movie Tours, it begins and ends in the National Center for Civil and Human Legal rights. First stop: the King family residence in Vine City. Additionally to twenty-plus sights, the 3-hour tour includes recorded original interviews with John Lewis, Andrew Youthful, Julian Bond, yet others, together with archival photos and footage. Houck intends to eventually serve only like a narrator for that video portion, after training upon the market fellow feet soldiers from the movement for everyone as guides.
“These places aren’t incorporated in almost any Atlanta tour guide,” he states. “I thought, ‘Why not do that, and get it done using the tales of those who resided it?’”
Houck wishes to introduce civil legal rights landmarks frequently overlooked by visitors and locals alike. These websites include South-View Graveyard in southeast Atlanta, founded by former slaves in 1886. Striding over the asphalt toward the graves of MLK’s parents, he pauses to indicate the inscription around the tomb of Martin Luther King Sr., also known as “Daddy King.” It reads: “I love everybody. Still running a business, just moved upstairs.”
Obviously, given Atlanta’s predilection for destruction, most of the “landmarks” around the tour appear in memory only. On Auburn Avenue, Houck suggests a Jamaican restaurant, formerly Henry’s Grill & Lounge, a place Dr. King loved. “He would order the pork sandwiches and pig’s ears.”
Houck’s talks are liberally sprinkled with anecdotes of King’s smoking and consuming and penchant for pulling pranks. But his goals for that Civil Legal rights Tour are high: “I want this to become a look at Atlanta that’s never been seen before, an event that puts Atlanta into the spotlight because the citadel from the civil legal rights movement.”
Once we make our in place the road, the health of the boarded building at 334 Auburn Avenue irritates Houck. The address formerly offered because the SCLC headquarters. “It’s unfortunate along with a disgrace,” he states. “Outside from the Oblong Office, there have been most likely more essential decisions made that affected the united states within the 1960s for the reason that SCLC conference room than every other world.Inches
Pulling as much as 407 Auburn Avenue, Ebenezer Baptist’s old educational building, Houck’s mood brightens because he remembers a brief trip with MLK on The month of january 15, 1968. “That’s where we celebrated Dr. King’s last birthday. Xernona Clayton organized an unexpected party. We told him he was visiting an SCLC staff meeting. I drove him lower the road in the SCLC offices, where we’d cake and punch waiting. No alcohol was offered. Not in Father King’s church-not a way!Inches
Go ahead and take tour
For more information or ticket reservations, visit civilrightstour.com.
This short article initially made an appearance within our March 2015 issue underneath the headline “Driving Dr. King.”