The Rev. Michael E. Haynes remembers the Sunday in the autumn of 1951 when he met the new preaching assistant at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, the neighborhood where Haynes grew up.
It was Martin Luther King Jr.
“Here was a man whose grandfather was a preacher — two grandfathers, one on each side,” Haynes told a congregation at First Baptist Church of Weston Sunday. “Whose father was a preacher, preachers all in the family.”
King, a year and seven months younger than Haynes, was getting his doctorate from Boston University at the time.
“And he was already an ordained, licensed, great, outstanding preacher,” Haynes said. “An overwhelming preacher, a gifted preacher.”
Haynes spoke to about 30 people in Weston Sunday, the day before Martin Luther King Day, after an invitation from his son Abdi Ali, an English teacher at Boston Latin School, who has been working to bring arts programming to First Baptist Church of Weston.
Once King gained national recognition, Haynes became his liaison to the police during his trips to Boston, helping coordinate security escorts. If King was being shuttled from event to event around the city, it was usually in Haynes’s car, he said.
In the fall of 1967 — a few months before he was killed in a Memphis motel on April 4, 1968 — King made his last trip to Boston.
“His last trip to Boston I was driving him to the airport, and it was the first time we didn’t ride to the airport with a lot of police around. Just one police car, unmarked, plainclothes. And he [King] is riding in the automobile with me. . . . And we talked about life, and we talked about the war, we talked about the things that concerned him. And that was the last time I saw him alive.”
Haynes became involved in politics himself: He was elected a state representative, serving parts of Roxbury and the South End, in 1965, the year he became senior minister at Twelfth Baptist Church. He left the Legislature in 1969 for the Massachusetts Parole Board, a seat he kept for almost 16 years. After decades as senior minister at Twelfth Baptist, he ceded senior pastor duties to the Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr. in 2010, though he still serves as pastor emeritus.
The church where Haynes spoke on Sunday serves primarily residents of Weston, Wellesley, Waltham, and Wayland.
“I’ve realized the importance of relationships between urban and suburban churches,” Haynes said after the service. “The oneness of our community is important.”
In the church Sunday were Ali’s children, 11-year-old Amalia and 10-year-old Amir, who shyly ducked into the pews whenever their grandfather mentioned them from the pulpit.
There were also a few newcomers who attended a weekend gospel choir workshop arranged by Ali and Tyrone Sutton, choral music director at Boston Arts Academy (the city’s visual and performing arts high school) and minister of music for the historic Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dorchester.
The choral students, children, teenagers, and adults, spent three hours Saturday learning about gospel music. On Sunday they served as the church choir, stepping and clapping as they sang “We Shall Overcome.”
“It’s always been kind of a conservative church, you kind of sit and be quiet,” said Linda Lazzari, 60, of Weston, who has been attending First Baptist Church of Weston since she was a young child. “But the way people experience church is changing. . . . It’s great to be able to get up and clap your hands.”
Lazzari said she felt honored to hear from someone who knew King personally. Haynes’s reflections could help children and teenagers growing up in Weston, who she said can be a bit sheltered, understand their peers growing up in Roxbury.
“It breaks down the barrier, I think, between there and here,” she said.