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MLK's driver remembers 'chasing the dream'

  • Story Highlights
  • Tom Houck recalls working for Martin Luther King -- "I was in awe"
  • Houck is writing a memoir about experiences in 1960s
  • First arrest for Houck came in Selma, Alabama, in 1965
  • He later became organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
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By Fredricka Whitfield
CNN
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(CNN) -- When people think of the 1960s civil rights movement, they think of the leaders and lieutenants ... Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams.

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Tom Houck, who was Martin Luther King Jr.'s driver and assistant, is now 60 and writing a memoir.

They and many more are remembered for challenging segregation, organizing voter registration drives, pushing for equal pay, fighting for union rights, speaking in church and at rallies.

But there were many unsung foot soldiers in the movement -- witnesses to American history.

One was Tom Houck, now 60 years old.

Back then, he says, he was a "long-haired, bearded, hippie-looking dude" from Massachusetts. And he was proud to be Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal driver and assistant. "I was a young white boy finding his own dream through Dr. King."

Today, Houck is condensing his memories of those dramatic times into a memoir, which he plans to call "Driving Dr. King: Chasing the Dream."

In it, he recalls his earliest memories of the civil rights movement. When he was just 12, he picketed a Woolworth's store in Boston in support of the sit-ins in the South.

"I liked carrying that sign," he says. Video Watch and listen to Houk recount his experiences »

After his mother died, his father made what would be a fateful decision, sending him to live with an aunt. She moved South, to Jacksonville, Florida, and Houck was soon involved in civil rights demonstrations. He was first arrested in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

A high-school dropout, Houck moved to Atlanta the following year to begin work in the mailroom at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was led by King. He was just 18.

A few months later, Houck was dumbstruck when King invited him to the house for a family lunch after church one Sunday.

"I was in awe," shocked that he was with the King family "in their house!"

The kids -- Martin the third, Yolanda, Bernice and Dexter -- especially liked him.

Houck says he was kind of stocky, and the boys naturally assumed he could play football. When they coaxed Houck into a game of catch outside, tumbling playfully on the ground, Houck won their hearts. The King kids were soon affectionately calling him "Uncle Tom."

A lot happened that Sunday. Houck made new friends and hit it off with Mrs. Coretta Scott King, who had studied in Massachusetts.

Mrs. King offered Houck a job: to drive the kids to school -- for $25 a week. He accepted and reported for work the next day. He soon became a trusted family friend.

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Houck later became an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was in Knoxville, Tennessee, the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated, and hurried back to Atlanta to help with the funeral arrangements.

Four decades after King's death, Tom Houck still has vivid memories of a momentous time. He hopes his memoir will be on bookstands next year -- providing a new perspective on the "human side" of Martin Luther King and his family. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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