IN the basement of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery there is a large mural depicting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ascension into heaven. He is clothed in white raiment and appears to be preaching or giving a benediction as he rises. In the painting he is surrounded by his forebears and teachers, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, W. E. B. Du Bois, Vernon Johns, his mother, and the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. The mural symbolizes the thicknesses of King's spiritual environment. In the formative period of his life, he was encompassed by a series of concentric circles: first Mother Church, next by the traditions of the black preachers and reformers who came before him, and finally by the circle of mentors and teachers who guided his preparation for ministry. If there were a text beneath the mural it might well be from the Book of Hebrews, "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses ..."
In his " Autobiography of Religious Development" written as a class assignment at Crozer Seminary, twenty-one year-old M. L. King characterized his religious environment as a "universe," a socially constructed world that shaped his identity and outlook on life. The moral and physical center of that universe was the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where his father presided from the pulpit and the son had been baptized. "The church has always been a second home for me," he wrote. "As far back as I can remember I was in church every Sunday."