As a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a great deal of time at J. Pius Barbour’s home in Chester, Pennsylvania, and often preached at Barbour’s church, Calvary Baptist. Barbour called King “the greatest orator on the American platform,” but also warned King in an article written for the National Baptist Convention’s newsletter, “Why God selected you I don’t know. All I know is that he has, and you are in a dangerous place” (Barbour, “Sermons and Addresses,” September 1956).
Born on 8 June 1894 in Galveston, Texas, Barbour attended the same college and seminary as King, earning his B.A. from Morehouse College in 1917 and a Master of Theology from Crozer Theological Seminary in 1937. During the 1920s he served as pastor of Day Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and then pastored Calvary Baptist Church in Chester, Pennsylvania, from 1933 until his death in 1974. Barbour was a member of the executive board of the National Baptist Convention and served as the editor of the National Baptist Voice.
King and Barbour corresponded frequently during King’s life, and Barbour often offered gratuitous advice in a jocular tone. Soon after King moved to Montgomery in 1954, Barbour cautioned, “Don’t get stuck there. Move on to a big metropolitan center in THE NORTH, or some town as ATLANTA. You will dry rot there” (Papers 2:565). Writing in the Voice during the Montgomery bus boycott, Barbour informed his fellow Baptists that he had “heard Mike argue dearly all night about Gandhi” while attending Crozer. Barbour recalled that King argued that “no minority can afford to adopt a policy of violence. Just a matter of arithmetic, Dr., he used to say” (Barbour, “Meditations on Rev. M. L. King, Jr., March 1956).
Barbour, “Meditations on Rev. M. L. King, Jr., of Montgomery, Ala.,” National Baptist Voice, March 1956.
Barbour, “Sermons and Addresses at the Convention,” National Baptist Voice, September 1956.
Barbour to King, 21 July 1955, in Papers 2:564-566.