Vernon Johns: As Dexter's pastor from 1947 to 1952, Johns was an early proponent of civil rights activity in Montgomery, urging his congregation to challenge the traditional status quo. In response to discrimination on city buses, Johns once disembarked in protest and demanded a refund. He was well known for his controversial sermon topics, such as "It Is Safe to Kill Negroes in Montgomery," and he also shocked his middle-class congregation by selling farm produce outside the church. His early activism and challenges to the power structure paved the way for Dexter's congregation to receive King's socially active ministry and enabled King to take a leading role in the Montgomery bus boycott.
King and Johns were both frequent guests at Ralph Abernathy's Montgomery home. Abernathy recalled that on one occasion, the three of them talked "about the situation at Dexter Avenue" and "about the oppression of our people and the growing belief that a sea of changes was taking place."