The Rev. Derek Barber King preaches from inside the pulpit at St. Paul AME Church in St. Augustine on the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement. He is joined in the pulpit by St. Paul AME pastor the Rev. Alesia Ford-Burse, left; the Rev. Cerita Battles, and Beverly Troutman. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

MLK’s nephew preaches at St. Augustine church where King delivered sermon 60 years ago

Published on June 16, 2024 at 9:53 pm

The reverend took the pulpit at St. Augustine’s St. Paul AME Church in the middle of June and delivered a message that there is more work to be done if equity is to be achieved.

It was 1964. The preacher was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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On this Sunday morning in 2024, the Rev. Derek Barber King, the nephew of the slain civil rights icon, shared a similar message at the same church as part of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center’s commemoration that Freedom Summer 60 years ago.

Martin Luther King Jr. was in St. Augustine on June 19th when the U.S. Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reacts in St. Augustine after learning that the U.S. Senate had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. | Associated Press

The younger King started his remarks by referencing his uncle’s most famous words — the portion of King’s “I have a Dream” speech when he castigated the U.S. for having yet to fulfill the promises of its founding.

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“In the context of the work of the Civil Rights Movement, we still have some work to do,” Derek King said Sunday morning. “We are not where this country said what it was created to be where all men, all people, are created equal.”

King preached from Numbers in the Old Testament. He compared the Israelites’ exploration of the wilderness after being delivered from Egypt to the quest the U.S. faces today to reach the “promised land” of equity.

The verse that King cited as the backbone for his sermon, Numbers 13:30, includes the phrase “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

King said the modern giants that all people, not just Black Americans, must overcome are poverty, racism, violence and ignorance.

“Some of the situations that we need remedy (from), we don’t need no more feasibility studies, no more impact studies,” King preached. “We need some sense! I just met a lady downstairs who is doing some cooking for us…she lived 100 years. To live to be 100, you’ve got to have some sense. Can you imagine what her eyes have seen? What her ears have heard. She can help straighten out some stuff.”

King told the audience of approximately 125 people that the U.S. can only be what is professes to be in its founding documents is if Black, white, rich, poor and others move collectively and appreciate they are part of the same American patchwork quilt.

“It was an honor to have Rev. Dr. King’s nephew to preach in the same pulpit, to carry on the rich history in St. Paul AME Church,” said St. Paul AME Pastor Alesia Ford-Burse. “It was a powerful connecting moment to bridge the past with the future members and community to carry on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at rally at African American church in St. Augustine on June 11, 1964, before a march on an old slave market. In foreground are African Americans just released from jail arrested for demonstrations the previous week. | AP Photo

Afterward, Derek King took a picture in front of the altar with Ford-Burse and others who either marched, demonstrated or were arrested during Freedom Summer, including 101-year-old Cora Tyson.

The Rev. Derek Barber King, nephew of Martin Luther King Jr. preached at St. Paul AME Church in St. Augustine’s Lincolnville community on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Cora Tyson, now 101 years old, fed Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Tyson, who was cooking for the congregation on Sunday morning, had welcomed King’s uncle into her home in Lincolnville in the 1960s and fed scores of demonstrators during that era.

Barbara Smith is another person who remembers Freedom Summer.

Smith was arrested in 1964. At the time she was a few months away from starting her senior year at Murray High School. She was inspired by King to agitate and demonstrate in the quest for equality.

“He told us that we had rights,” Smith says. “If he was willing to do what he was doing and come to St. Augustine to fight for us, put his life in danger, at least we could stand up. Even though some of our parents were from the old school and they wouldn’t. We felt it was up to us to do it.”

Barbara Smith was jailed during the Freedom Summer demonstrations in 1964. She says she was inspired to demonstrate by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Smith, now 78, noted things have changed in St. Augustine over the last six decades. In 1964, St. Augustine Mayor Joseph Shelley told a nationwide television audience there were no racial problems in St. Augustine. On Sunday, St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline sat in the second row.

Sikes-Kline did not say anything during the portion of the service when visitors were invited to speak. To Smith, Sikes-Kline’s presence spoke enough, she said. St. Augustine Police Chief Jennifer Michaux also spent a few moments inside the church.

“I’m almost in tears, because we’ve done this several times before, reward the heroes and “sheroes,” Smith says. “But, to have his nephew was even more (special.) It was like having him here and talking to us and him giving us the encouragement to move forward. The job was not done yet. We still have a lot more to do.”

Smith wasn’t in the audience when Martin Luther King preached in St. Paul AME. But, she was in Downtown St. Augustine that summer, and says she was within touching distance of King and Hosea Williams when a fight broke out near the Woolworths along King Street.

“To see them have to try to protect him and throw their bodies in front of him to keep him from being hit. To see the abuse that they did…to see such hatred on faces and the things they say, its really discouraging, especially when you are just a teenager in high school. You realize there is so much hatred in the world.”

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline listened to the Rev. Derek Barber King, nephew of Martin Luther King Jr. preach at St. Paul AME Church in St. Augustine’s Lincolnville community on Sunday, June 16, 2024. King’s uncle preached from the same pulpit in June 1964 as he pressed for the U.S. Senate to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Smith did note, there have been victories over the last 60 years from more housing and educational opportunities to additional access to jobs.

Progress can be seen in other places as well.

Ford-Burse is a history maker in her own right as the first woman to pastor the venerable church on Martin Luther King Avenue. Sixty years to the day since Major League Baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson also spoke inside St. Paul AME and encouraged people to remain engaged in the civil rights struggle, Ford-Burse stood inside the vestibule and said it is a privilege to preach in the same pulpit.

“To sit where he sat and to stand where he stood, the message of Dr. King lives on.”

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at

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