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Martin Luther King Jr.'s friendship with a Cincinnati minister

Posted at 4:30 AM, Jan 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-15 07:25:50-05

CINCINNATI -- Inside the offices of the Cincinnati Herald, images -- some crisp, some yellowed with age -- document a little-known connection between the city and Martin Luther King Jr.

Although many of the activist leader's most iconic and best-remembered demonstrations were set against an Alabaman backdrop, he was a frequent guest at the dinner table of Louise Shropshire, a Cincinnati-based composer of hymns.

"When Dr. King was in her home one night, visiting with her family after dinner, she sat down at the piano and played ‘If My Jesus Wills,'" Herald editor-in-chief Dan Yount said. He claimed it was King who suggested she change a few of the words, transforming it into "We Shall Overcome."

The main verse of "We Shall Overcome" was placed in public domain last year following a copyright challenge that was supported by the Shropshire family. The song had been copyrighted by folk singer Pete Seeger and others.

King, himself a minister, was also acquainted with Cincinnati religious leaders such as the Reverend L.V. Booth.

"My dad talked about how when he came outside after preaching a soul-stirring message, he was out in the parking lot playing basketball with the neighborhood boys," Paul Booth Jr., the reverend's son, said.

King died just 50 years ago -- within living memory for millions of Americans. Although the movement he led achieved significant victories in eroding the socioeconomic barriers erected to block black Americans from jobs, education and access to public life, Booth said he believes the work is far from over.

"We've got to work to make sure there's economic opportunity for all," he said. "People need to have equal access to affordable healthcare, housing and all the development that's happening in our city."