Dr. King accepted the call to the pastorate of the then Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as its twentieth pastor, on May 14, 1954.
He had previously rejected consideration for the pastorate of two churches in the East and offers from three colleges to teach and/or assume administrative positions. He arrived at Dexter – his first and only full-time pastorate – after completing his residential requirements for his Doctor of Philosophy in systematic theology from Boston University. Upon completing his doctoral thesis during the first five months of his pastorate, he was awarded the degree on June 5, 1955.
His pastorate of Dexter was his “growing ground” for non-violence and passive resistance that catapulted him into a national civil rights leadership role. In addition to performing his administrative and pastoral duties, he strongly encouraged his congregation to take an active role in the resolution of current civic/social problems. Two of his members, Jo Ann Robinson and Rufus Lewis, were among the first people to become critical players in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He insisted that every Church member become a registered voter and a member of the NAACP and organized within the Church a Social and Political Action Committee, designed to keep the congregation intelligently informed on social, political and economic issues.
Dr. King was the first president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, an active member of the local NAACP, and vice-president of the Alabama Council on Human Relations, which employed educational methods to achieve its purposes. Dr. King’s pastorate was one of moving his congregation to make real – in everyday life – the principles of brotherhood and true equality, rooted in the Christian faith.