"She carried that pain for these 35 years," says her close friend, Ellis Robinson.
Now Hernandez has transformed that pain in an unusual way. In December 2001, the former addiction counselor fulfilled a long-standing dream to open a bed and breakfast -- and Martin's Dream Bed and Breakfast is quite possibly the world's only B&B dedicated to the memory of the civil-rights icon.
"Since this is the biggest passion of my life," Hernandez explains, "I thought, why not tie the two together?"
The blue ranch-style house is tucked on an unlikely street of small homes in northwest Kansas City, Kansas. Years before Hernandez opened the B&B, she had begun collecting King and African-American memorabilia at area flea markets and garage sales. On display at the house are King posters and banners, black cultural items and religious art. Hernandez has an MLK board game, a portrait of King with John F. Kennedy, and the 1968 issue of Life magazine commemorating King a week after his death. She has hundreds of books on African-American history and culture, and she even commissioned a painting of King by Lawrence artist Joe Ray Kelly.
In addition to the King motif, Hernandez has decorated her home in shades of blue. Some rooms have blue carpet or blue walls. Blue stained glass, lamps, glassware and candleholders abound. The kitchen is an explosion of cobalt surfaces -- countertops, a fan, wallpaper, tile, containers, a phone, and a dozen blue pots and kettles. She offers bottled water in dark-blue containers.
Somehow the combined presence of King and Hernandez creates a space that's homespun and warm, in a slightly off-kilter way. Hernandez provides a panoply of comforts for wayward travelers: videos and books, a piano, and a magic show courtesy of her husband. Guests can wear olive-colored dashikis if they're feeling inspired.
Hernandez didn't advertise her B&B for much of last year because she was caring for her mother and was hesitant to have too many guests. She says whomever God sent her, she took. This fatalistic marketing strategy has resulted in only a few customers, the most frequent being Melvin Kerr, minister of music for St. Monica's Catholic Church. Kerr commutes into town every week from Sedalia and has stayed at Martin's Dream half a dozen times since last spring. The extensive library keeps him happy, but that's not the only thing that draws him to Martin's Dream.
"That place has become my domain," Kerr says. "It's far enough out so that I can escape. I am trying to promote and let ministers know that they should come out and rejuvenate spiritually, physically." Every time he stays there, he feels like a king.