The Rev. Harold Middlebrook, an important voice in the Civil Rights Movement who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will present a President’s Forum lecture on Thursday, Jan. 19 in conjunction with the Colleges’ Martin Luther King Jr. Week Celebration. Middlebrook is a senior pastor at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Knoxville, Tenn., where he accepted a pastorate in 1977. He has kept King’s legacy alive through social welfare initiatives such as the Canaan Baptist Housing Corporation, and as founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Commission of Greater Knoxville. Middlebrook’s President’s Forum lecture, titled “Martin Luther King Jr.: The Man, The Message, The Memorial,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Vandervort Room.
Middlebrook received his bachelor’s degree from Atlanta’s Morehouse College in 1963. While a student, he and Dr. King were jailed for participating in a Civil Rights demonstration and Middlebrook became ill. Martin Luther King Sr., a well-known pastor in Atlanta, interceded to get him out of jail and into the home of his son and fellow pastor A.D. King.
It was because of the inspiration and encouragement of the Kings that Middlebrook became a pastor. Middlebrook served as youth pastor under both Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and as part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a faith-based Civil Rights organization of which Martin Luther King Jr. was president.
In 1965, Middlebrook directed the SCLC’s Selma field office and was chosen by King to organize the registration of new voters following passage of the Voting Rights Act. This was a challenging role as it entailed first convincing frightened people to vote and, in many cases, teaching them how to read and write so they could.
As a member of the strategy committee of the Community on the Move for Equality (COME) in 1968, Middlebrook was responsible for organizing youth activities. That year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees organized a strike in Memphis after the city fired an African American sanitation worker because of his union activities. Middlebrook brought King to Memphis to support the strikers. He first led a mass march in Memphis in March and returned on April 3, as the strike continued. The next day, King met with friends, including Middlebrook, at the Lorraine Motel to plan the next march. Middlebrook was with King when he was shot on the balcony of the motel.
Middlebrook remained politically active through the 1980s. He was president of the Bolivar Human Development Corporation, an adviser to the Hardeman County Bi-Racial Commission, co-coordinator of the Hardeman County Political Action Commission, and an advisory board member to the Tennessee Public Service Commission. In 1986, he founded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Commission of Greater Knoxville, which he chaired until 2000.
Middlebrook held pastorates in Greater Springfield Baptist Church in Bolivar, Tenn., and Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Knoxville. He also served as director of Christian education for the West Tennessee Central Baptist Association, and as president of the Hardeman County Ministerial Association.
Middlebrook has appeared in several films on the Civil Rights movement, including the 1993 documentary “At the River I Stand,” an adaptation of Joan Turner Beifuss’s book by the same title, and the 1998 Oliver Stone documentary “Assassinated: The Last Days of King and Kennedy.”
Established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, the President’s Forum Series is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members.