King Comes to Newport News
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As part of Dr. King’s crusading efforts, he made appearances at historically black colleges throughout the country, including Hampton Institute, to spread his message. As a man of the cloth, his most frequent venue for reaching African Americans was that longstanding pillar of black society—churches. Twice, he ventured to this city to speak in a house of worship.
First Church of Newport News (Baptist), organized in 1864, was the earliest congregation established within the original city limits. In 1897, a new brick edifice was built at 2300 Jefferson Avenue. The towering steeple was a landmark on the city horizon for many years. Therefore, it was quite fitting that on both of King’s visits to Newport News, he addressed the community at its oldest and largest black church.
Under the leadership of Dr. John Williams, First Church invited Dr. King to speak at its January 2, 1958 Emancipation Proclamation observance. His message fell on receptive ears because First Church, founded “in the era slavery, but never a spirit of enslavement,” welcomed the dynamic, young minister.
No doubt King felt at home on this visit for the church was now the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Fred Boddie. The two men were old college chums from Shaw University, N.C. Dr. Boddie, and avid supporter of Dr. King, spent time in jail for his participation in the civil rights movement. When Dr. King spoke this time, he was confident of the support of his friends, Rev. Dr. Fred and Patricia Boddie. However, him message was received with mixed views by those who heard it. Overshadowed and burdened by America’s racist policies and practices, blacks in Newport News were divided in their opinion of Dr. King and his plan for equality.
(Inscription under the image in the upper center)
The tall steeple of First Church, as seen in this 1890 view, made it an easily recognizable structure in East End.
(Inscription under the image in the upper right)
1958 Emancipation Day Celebration at First Church. At the pulpit, Rev. Dr. John Francis Williams. Dr. King is seated at the far left. Shipyard Union leader Soloman M. Travis, Jr. is on the far right.
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Location. 36° 58.869′ N, 76° 25.244′ W. Marker is in Newport News, Virginia. Marker is at the intersection of Martin L. King Jr. Way and Jefferson Avenue on Martin L. King Jr. Way. This marker is located in Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Newport News VA 23607, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Memorial Design & Concept (a few steps from this marker); Newport News Pays Tribute (within shouting distance of this marker); Crusader for Legal Justice (within shouting distance of this marker); James A. Fields House (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); a different marker also named James A. Fields House (about 700 feet away); Gregory Cherry (about 700 feet away); Ella Fitzgerald (approx. 0.2 miles away); Jessie Menifield Rattley (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Newport News.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 7, 2021. It was originally submitted on October 1, 2016, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 353 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on October 1, 2016, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.