Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Gayle Beddingfield (far right), of the Historical Rex Village Association, informs the crowd about the grave site of the grandparents of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Rex.
Historic Rex Village was quiet. The buildings seemed to be existing in the past, even though people from the present were driving around them.
Although a quiet, quaint little town, Rex’s history speaks up loudly and clearly, according to Gayle Beddingfield, a volunteer at the Historic Rex Village Association.
The association conducted its annual “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Town and Cemetery Tour” for a small group of people, Monday, on the occasion of the celebration of what would be the slain civil rights leader’s 83rd birthday. The tour took participants to various sites, including the graves of King’s paternal grandparents, and the great-great-great-grandfather of first lady Michelle Obama.
“This is all about community, finding our history [and] growing,” added Beddingfield’s husband, Jerry Beddingfield, vice chairman of the Historic Rex Village Association.
Fifteen-year-old Dean Nails stood in awe before the graves of King’s paternal grandparents — James Albert King and Delia Linsey Long King.
He said, as an African-American youth, he is proud to know more about King’s family tree, and he will come with friends, next time, and show them the resting place.
“I am at a loss for words,” said Nails, of Lithonia. “This is great.”
Gayle Beddingfield said the grave site is located at Rocky Mount Baptist Church, at 6682 Old Macon Highway, Rex, in Henry County.
She said James Albert King was born in December of 1864, in Ohio, and Delia King was born in July of 1875, in Henry County. The couple married on Aug. 20, 1895, in Stockbridge, and had nine children, including Martin Luther King, Sr., who was born in Stockbridge on Dec. 19, 1897.
“People, be proud of what is in your backyard,” stressed Jerry Beddingfield, to the crowd.
He said the younger King’s grandparents are buried there, because they went to church there with their children. Currently, the graves are not officially listed as an historical site, but the association will try to work with the church’s pastor, and attempt to get in touch with the King family to get that process started.
Gayle Beddingfield said another historic treasure in Rex is Michelle Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather’s internment location, which was once the Shield’s farm, a 200-acre property on Fielder Road.
The location is currently at a graveyard now called “Adamson, Fielder Ragsdale and Shield Cemetery-Ca. 1830,” she said.
The graveyard is fenced-in and behind a home, on private property, hidden from view. Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather was, either Henry Shields, the plantation owner, or one of his four sons, she said.
“In an 1860s agriculture report on the Shield’s farm, were listed: 20 sheep, three horses, 17 pigs and five cows, along with cotton, corn, wheat and sweet potatoes that had to be harvested,” she said.
Melvinia was a slave on the plantation, and Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother, she explained.
A couple of years before the Civil War, 15-year-old Melvinia was impregnated by one of the Shields, and Dolphus Shields was born, she said.
Dolphus married and moved to Birmingham, Ala., in 1888, where he eventually co-founded the First Ebenezer Baptist Church, Trinity Baptist Church and the Dean of Deacons in Birmingham in the early 1900s, said Gayle Beddingfield.
Coincidentally, the young King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Anthony Williams, of Rex, said he enjoyed the tour, and believes it is important for African-American youths of today to know about their history.
He said, despite the pain and hardships of African-American history, it is important to appreciate it, and move forward.
“History has a way of growth,” said Williams.
For more information about the Historic Rex Village Association, visit the Facebook page, at: www.facebook.com/historicrex.