As pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Raphael Warnock said he never felt the pressure to fill the shoes of his famous predecessor, Martin Luther King Jr. But he does “stand on his shoulders.”
Warnock is the fifth and youngest inhabitant of the pulpit of the 134-year-old church, both a National Historic Site and an active Progressive Baptist congregation. Ebenezer Baptist famously was co-pastored by King and his father, Martin Luther King Sr., or “Daddy King,” from 1960 until the civil rights leader’s assassination in 1968.
Though “times are different than they were then, there are many of the same challenges,” Warnock told Christianity Today in the midst of another wave of activism around policing, voting rights, housing, and health care for black Americans. “But we have to rise to [the next] one while finding inspiration in what they’ve done.”
After 15 years at Ebenezer Baptist, Warnock’s present challenge is running for US Senate in Georgia. The issues he hopes to address in office are many of the same ones that troubled an Ebenezer college student named Lonnie King Jr. in 1960. With fellow black student activists, Lonnie King decried racial discrimination in “An Appeal for Human Rights,” which ran in local papers as well as The New York Times and was a catalyst toward desegregation in Atlanta.
The contemporary civil rights movement is more diffuse and its leadership less religious than in the days of the marches led by ministers and Christian students in the 1960s. But today’s black church leaders are still building on the political legacies of their forerunners, and Atlanta showcases many of the historic parallels.
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