INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — He is known as the patron saint of the Civil Rights Movement, an icon and a martyr who died for justice and peace. But for one Indianapolis man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also a family friend.
“He was one heck of a listener. I mean a serious listener. King would just sit there and just sit, and once he spoke, he would lock in,” said Reverend Thomas Brown.
Reverend Brown met Martin Luther King Jr. when he was only a teenager. Brown’s father was Andrew J. Brown, the man considered the most significant civil rights activist in Indianapolis history. King and the elder Brown were lifelong friends. When Dr. King would visit Indianapolis, he would stay in the Browns’ home.
“It was a place you could rest. The people were very cordial within the black experience. It was a social refuge, a place to relax,” said Reverend Brown. “When they got off the stage, the outside world, when they got back to the house, they’d joke, have a good time. Boy, they all had good appetites. Good grief!”
Even as a teenager, Reverend Brown saw something in Martin Luther King Jr. that the whole world would notice. He calls it an aura, something that separated him from other leaders.
“So what you’re describing is a presence, charisma. Whatever you want to call it in the 21st century. Yes, he had a presence,” said Reverend Brown.
The Civil Rights Movement also inspired Reverend Brown into activism. He was a recruiter for a prominent civil rights group, and he risked his life organizing in dangerous cities like Selma, Alabama.
“You in a dark area, and you see some bright lights behind you, you think, ‘I gotta get out of here.’ Let’s call that scared but courageous. If you’re scared and you freeze, you dead,” said Reverend Brown.
Like many of Dr. King’s colleagues, Reverend Brown says Martin Luther King Jr. was fatalistic about his mortality and knew that someday, he would probably be sacrificed for his movement.
“For the movement, we all knew that we had to be prepared to die for the movement to continue.”