HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-The nation paused on Thursday to mark the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. But the small list of people who knew the civil rights leader and American hero long before he became famous include a Huntsville pastor who grew up just three doors down from King's family.
Long-time Huntsville pastor Rev. Homer McCall mowed Dr. King's lawn as a youth on South Jackson Street in Montgomery, and was later ordained into the ministry by his neighbor and mentor in 1966. But just two years later Dr. King was gone, with an assassin's bullet ending the life of an American hero. Pastor McCall learned of the assassination through a radio news bulletin he overheard while studying. He said April 4th, 1968 was the day he firmly decided that bitterness and hatred would not enter his heart because of the lessons he learned from Dr. King.
"That was one of the most important factors, prayer. And as we commune with God, we have no time to hate. As we continue to commune with God, we love our neighbors as ourselves. And as we remain in love with God, we remain in love with all humanity."
Rev. McCall said his soon to be famous neighbor always challenged him to reach excellence, with one moment in particular standing out. McCall said he had just finished mowing Dr. King's grass one day when he paid him a compliment that would inspire him for years to come.
"He [King] said 'You're mowing that lawn like Michelangelo carved, like Shakespeare writing poetry, like Leonardo Da Vinci and all his works. You're doing it so well that the host of angels will have to pause and say 'there stands a great street sweeper.' And that inspired me to do even better."
James Earl Ray was ultimately convicted of killing King in an assassination that rocked the civil rights movement and stunned the nation. Ray was later sentenced to life in prison before dying of cancer in 1998.
"Today, 45 years ago, will not be forgotten," said McCall. "Sent by God, assassinated by man, but his dream lives on."
Rev. Homer McCall retired from the pulpit in 2011. He had pastored at St. John's AME Church in Huntsville since 1971.