When Janie Young Price met Martin Luther King, Jr., the pair were just a couple of college kids enjoying a Saturday night with friends dancing to jukebox music. But years later, their friendship would underpin a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
Price, now 94, was training as a nurse at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta while King attended nearby Morehouse College. She recently reflected on his character and legacy in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
“He was refined, and a gentleman,” Price told NBC News’ Know Your Value. "And some men are not," she added dryly.
Over those jukebox Saturdays the two talked about her childhood in segregated St. Augustine, Florida. It was an experience that followed her to Grady Memorial Hospital, where the nursing school was also segregated. Black students were required to wear pink uniforms, while the white students wore blue.
Price recalled him simply as kind, young “Martin” from college in the ‘40s. And when the civil rights demonstrations began in earnest years later, she didn’t initially associate her old friend with the Martin Luther King everyone was talking about.
King always remembered Price, who had moved back to St. Augustine after college. King came to the area during a campaign that would lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During that time, he had to be moved from house to house to keep him safe—and Price, an activist herself, volunteered to host him.
She drove to meet King at the Jacksonville airport, picking him up in a distinctive Buick Electra 225. Members of the Ku Klux Klan followed them.
“He wasn’t going to let people scare him, and neither was I,” Price said. We “took that risk, because if you let people frighten you, they’ll do it. I had to show them I was not afraid of what they could do.”
One night, Price came home from work to find her Electra flipped upside down. She promptly drove around St. Augustine to show she had her car back, and she wasn’t afraid to drive it.
Then anonymous calls came, asking if Price had any white people at her house and threatening to blow it up.
“I told them, ‘I’ll be ready for you,’” Price recounted. “They never came.”
Price and King spoke at length after his St. Augustine-area events and speeches, lying on the floor singing hymns.
“He said he knew he would be assassinated—he didn’t know where or when—but he didn’t dwell on that,” Price said. “God puts us all here for a purpose, and he knew his.”
She remembered asking him the obvious question: “Aren’t you afraid?” If it’s not worth dying for, King told Price, it simply isn’t worth doing.
King was fatally shot on April 4, 1968, in Tennessee.
“He knew he wasn’t going to be here for long,” Price said. “It was a beautiful thing to be acquainted with him. He’s in history now.”
Price and the home where she hosted King are also part of history: 156 Central Avenue, now called 156 Martin Luther King Avenue, is marked with a “Freedom Trail” plaque commemorating all that happened there.
“I’m very honored to have known a man with such great power, and he will never die,” Price said. “He will never die, as long as there’s a Black person alive. He finished what God put him here for.”