Fort Worth

Dr. King's Only Visit to Fort Worth

In 1959, Fort Worth, like the rest of our country, was a much different place.

"We were having problems in the city," recalled Ruth Baker. "It was segregated here."

Baker is now 86 years old.

Through the years, some of her memories have slowly faded away, but others, will always stand the test of time.

"We had to sit in the back of the buses," she added. "There was a movie house downtown. Nobody told me I couldn't go in it, I just knew I couldn't go in it. That was the atmosphere that we lived in."

It was the beginning of a nation-wide movement, led by 30 year old Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"He was just plain and ordinary," said Baker, as she recalled meeting King on October 22, 1959. "When I think about it, I think about how fortunate we were."

King was touring the country to promote equality.

His visit that day, turned out to be his only trip to Fort Worth.

"They went to the airport and picked him up and then realized that they had to do something with him," Baker joked. "They never really planned anything, never thought about he was going to be here all day."

The Baker's own a funeral home on the south side of Fort Worth. It's been there since the 1920's. Their friends took Dr. King there because they just didn't know what to do with him. The family business was a safe place, where they could map out the rest of their day, before King delivered a speech that night.

City leaders didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for Dr. King.

"He was not welcomed by the whites but the blacks were frightened," Baker remembered. "There were people who were saying that it was going to be dangerous and maybe you ought not to go."

There were bomb threats and safety concerns, but nothing ever happened.

The only pictures from that day were taken by Calvin Littlejohn, a well known photographer, who followed King from Love Field Airport to a house on Stewart Street, where King stayed the night.

"He stayed in the front bedroom over there," said Ola Redwine, who lives across the street from the house King stayed at. "They wouldn't allow him at the hotel, that's true."

Decades later, Redwine routinely cleaned that house.

"I never cleaned his house, but I cleaned the room that he slept in," she joked about her connection to King.

The original home owner told her all about King's visit.

"She said there were plenty of threats against her, but she didn't feel like the God she served, this would occur."

An estimated 400 people went to listen to King speak that night.

94 year old L. Clifford Davis went to meet King before the program started.

"I had the opportunity to go back and talk with him for a little while," he recalled.

At the time, Davis was a young attorney. Their brief conversation confirmed his desire to help others.

"We got to talk for 5 or 10 minutes," he said. "We talked about the movement. The things we could continue to try and advocate and how we could go about it, and the importance of keeping it peaceful."

Davis would later become Tarrant County's first African American state district judge.

"In my opinion we had the same motive," he added.

It cost $1.25 to get in and listen to Dr. King speak.

"That's a lot of money," Baker recalled. "We probably didn't have a $1.25."

Her husband went alone. She regrets it now.

"When I look back on it, I wish I had gone to the theater."

The stop in Fort Worth was a memorable one for those who took part.

Contact Us