StoryCorps: The Accidental Wheelman Of Martin Luther King Jr. In the mid-'60s, Tom Houck left high school to join the civil rights movement. But he never expected he'd become the personal driver to the movement's leader — mostly because he had a license.

The Accidental Wheelman Of Martin Luther King Jr.

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It is Friday, and it is time for Story Corps. As we head into this Martin Luther King Day weekend we'll hear from the man who as a teenager was the King family's personal driver. His name is Tom Houck. He's white. And in the mid-1960s he dropped out of high school to join the civil rights movement. After meeting Doctor King at an event, he volunteered to work for King's organization. So he made his way to Atlanta, and his story starts the day he arrived.

TOM HOUCK: I was standing outside waiting for somebody to come pick me up. And all of a sudden, Doctor King drove down the street. He said Tom, you're here. And he was with Mrs. King, and she says, Martin, why don't we take Tom over to our house to have lunch? And then the kids wanted to play football so Coretta asked me if I would be willing to go out into the front yard - I played football with the kids and they said, oh, we're going to call him Uncle Tom. (Laughter) So they were, you know, kidding with me. And then Coretta comes outside and she says Tom, can I see you for a second? Do you have your driver's license? I said yeah, why? Would you mind taking the kids to school tomorrow morning? I said fine. So I wound up spending nine months driving the family and driving Doctor King. I would basically drive him around Atlanta, although he liked to drive himself a lot. But he was a terrible driver. And he'd turn WAOK radio Atlanta on full blast.


HOUCK: Doctor King was a chain smoker - all right? But Coretta did not like the cigarettes. So when we would come back to the house the first thing Coretta would do - she would check Doctor King's pockets. So he started giving me his cigarettes.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: You were a co-conspirator.

HOUCK: Yeah, I was a co-conspirator with him. Martin Luther King was my hero. He was a decent, kind human being to me. And treated me not as a 18 or 19-year-old, but as a man. And it was a phenomenal experience for me because at this point Doctor King had won the Nobel Peace Prize. And he would talk to me about the movement. So here I was - did not finish high school. But I went to Martin Luther King Jr. University, and I got a PhD.


GREENE: That's Tom Houck telling a friend in Atlanta about his memories of driving for the King family. Now inspired by Doctor King, Houck spent his entire career working for civil rights. This conversation will be archived along with the rest of the Story Corps collection at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And to hear more conversations from Story Corps, get the podcast on iTunes and at

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