Tuesday August 23, 2016

Driving Dr. King and the civil rights tour of Atlanta with Tom Houck

This 1966 file photo is the last official portrait taken of the entire King family. From left are Dexter King, Yolanda King, Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King III.

This 1966 file photo is the last official portrait taken of the entire King family. From left are Dexter King, Yolanda King, Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King III. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, File)

Listen to Full Episode 27:30

One day, one lunch ... can change the course of your life.

In the case of Tom Houck, that day took place in 1966 when he was offered a ride by Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King's place in history is so essential, so revered, it's hard to believe he was just a regular guy, doing regular guy things like buying lottery tickets at the corner store, playing basketball in the backyard and driving an Impala. But that's the side of Dr. King that Houck knew very well.

Tom Houck outside MLK's last residence

Tom Houck outside MLK's last residence in Atlanta on Sunset Avenue. (Stephen Smith/CBC)

Back in 1966, Houck was a 19-year-old from Massachusetts. He was white, and he had moved to Atlanta to work for the organization led by King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Houck had been offered a job answering mail, but by the end of his first day in Atlanta he was offered an altogether different — and life-altering — job.

Tom Houck at MLK's original burial site

Tom Houck at MLK's original burial site, now the graves of Martin Luther King Jr.'s parents. (Stephen Smith/CBC)

Dr. King's family needed a driver, and for reasons that remain a mystery to Tom, King's wife, Coretta Scott King, thought he would be perfect.

Houck is now 68 and gives guided tours of the Atlanta he got to know while driving Dr. King and his family around the city. CBC Montreal journalist Stephen Smith took the tour and spoke with Houck in his documentary, Driving Dr. King.

 

About the producer

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith is a web journalist and occasional radio producer at CBC Montreal. He won a silver in the history category of the 2015 New York Festivals World's Best Radio Programs for his Ideas documentary about the making of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1967 Massey Lectures. A feature interview with Harry Belafonte for that program led to a spin-off Ideas documentary about the singer/activist's friendship with Dr. King that first aired on Martin Luther King Day in 2015.