Martin Luther King Jr.: His Legacy Lives On With Family Members
By Barbara Heimlich
As we celebrate and honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 15th, we will all be reminded that Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister, activist, and political philosopher who was one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement, from 1955 until his assassination in 1968.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s many accomplishments include winning the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance, and his opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War. In 1968, King was planning the Poor People’s Campaign, a national occupation of Washington, D.C., when he was assassinated on April 4th in Memphis, Tennessee. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2003. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971.
But on this MLK holiday, let’s take note that his legacy did not end in 1968, but has lived on through his family – all members of his family have continued to be activists to further not only civil rights, but other pressing issues facing us as a nation.
Let’s begin with the youngest family member:
Yolanda Renee King is sixteen years old and the only grandchild of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Her grandfather’s name is uttered in the same breath with early American immortals, and her youth is a reminder that the triumphs and tragedy of his story played out not nearly so long ago as theirs.
At age 9, Yolanda Renee King spoke at the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C., on March 24th, 2018.
Editor’s Note: Born out of a tragic school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Miami suburban town of Parkland, Florida, March For Our Lives is a courageous youth-led movement dedicated to promoting civic engagement, education, and direct action by youth to eliminate the epidemic of gun violence. “We aim to create safe and healthy communities and livelihoods where gun violence is obsolete.”
King is an advocate for voter reform and stopping gun violence, along with issues related to pollution and homelessness. King said gun violence doesn’t allow her and her peers to just be children. She said many live in fear at school due to the rise in campus shootings. She feels more could be done to combat gun violence and mass shootings, like making it harder to obtain “weapons of mass murder.” “Thoughts and prayers are helpful only after you take action,” King said.
She has also called on young people to boycott violence in the media. “Culture is something we create with our choices. Let’s make better choices,” she said.
King was given the choice to continue her family’s legacy of community service and activism, and says that her parents, Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King, never forced her into activism, but they also didn’t discourage her.
“I am blessed that my father and mother decided to include me in their work to fulfill the dream. As a result, I have already traveled across the country and two other countries, taking part in programs as an advocate of nonviolent social change.”
She acknowledged that her grandparents left a legacy of working to make the world a more peaceful place. “You see many public figures glorifying him, but it’s like ‘Do you really live by the dream?’ I definitely think that it’s great that we are glorifying his work, but also at the same time it’s kind of ironic, because after that, you’re just continuing to do what you usually do,” King said.
Coretta Scott King (née Scott; April 27, 1927 – January 30, 2006) was an American author, activist, and civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr., from 1953 until his assassination on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN . As an advocate for African-American equality, she was a leader for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. King was also a singer who often incorporated music into her civil rights work. King met her husband while attending graduate school in Boston.
King played a prominent role in the years after her husband’s assassination in 1968, when she took on the leadership of the struggle for racial equality herself and became active in the Women’s Movement. King founded the King Center, and sought to make his birthday a national holiday. She finally succeeded when Ronald Reagan signed legislation which established Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on November 2, 1983. She later broadened her scope to include both advocacy for LGBTQ rights and opposition to apartheid. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and was the first African American to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol. King has been referred to as “First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement”.
They had four children:
Yolanda King, the eldest child of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, was born November 17th, 1955, less than a month before the launch of the Montgomery bus boycott. She and her mother were in the family home when it was bombed on January 30th ,1956. The family moved to Atlanta in 1960, and Yolanda became immersed in the activities of her grandparents, aunts, and cousins. According to her father, by the age of six she was aware of the racism that surrounded her. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King recalled that he had to explain to Yolanda why she could not go to a new amusement park known as Funtown. He recounted the difficulty of seeing tears in Yolanda’s eyes when he told her that black children were not permitted in the park.
Yolanda attended drama school and was active in sports and student council. She graduated from Smith College with a BA in theater and African-American studies in 1976, and received an MFA from New York University in 1979. For several years afterward, she collaborated with Attallah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, to produce and perform plays as the Nucleus Theatre Group. Yolanda then returned to Atlanta to direct cultural affairs for the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She served three years as Professor in Residence at Fordham University before moving to Los Angeles in 1990 to found Higher Ground Productions. With Higher Ground, she produced and starred in numerous productions, including “Tracts: A Celebration of the Triumph and Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Yolanda published several books, including Open My Eyes, Open My Soul (2003). She died on May15th, 2007.
Martin Luther King III, born October 23rd, 1957, is an American human rights activist, philanthropist and advocate. The oldest son of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, King served as the 4th President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1997 to 2004. He served on the Fulton County Commission, from 1987 to 1993. Alongside Kerry Kennedy, King opposed the death penalty in 1989, stating, “If we believed in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, most of us would be without eyes and without teeth.
Martin Luther King III spoke on behalf of the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, at the Democratic National Convention on August 28th, 2008. The event marked the 45th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the first time an African American accepted the presidential nomination of a major party. King said his father would be “proud of Barack Obama, proud of the party that nominated him, and proud of the America that will elect him”. However, he also warned that his father’s dream would not be completely fulfilled even if Obama won the presidency, because the country was suffering from a poor health care system, education system, housing market and justice system, and that “we all have to roll up our sleeves and do work to ensure that the dream that he shared can be fulfilled”.
King is chairman of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. On August 28th, 2013, he attended the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the event at which his father delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Dexter also pursued a career in media and entertainment, and has starred in and produced films, records, and television specials concerning the civil rights movement. His animated movie, “Our Friend Martin,” was nominated for an Emmy award. He is also the author of Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir (2003). Ebony magazine has featured Dexter in its “100 Most Influential Black Americans” lists, and he has appeared on numerous talk shows. In 1997, Dexter met with James Earl Ray and stated publicly that he did not believe that Ray was his father’s killer. Dexter Scott King portrayed his father and Civil rights movement activist Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2002 American television movie, The Rosa Parks Story, and even voiced his father’s 34-year-old self in the 1999 educational film, Our Friend, Martin.
Bernice Albertine King, born March 28th, 1963, is an American lawyer, minister, and the youngest child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. She was five years old when her father was assassinated. In her adolescence, King chose to work towards becoming a minister after having a breakdown from watching a documentary about her father. King was 17 when she was invited to speak at the United Nations. Twenty years after her father was assassinated, she preached her trial sermon, inspired by her parents’ activism.
King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 2009. She was the first woman elected to the presidency in the organization’s history, amidst the SCLC holding two separate conventions. King became upset with the actions of the SCLC, feeling that the organization was ignoring her suggestions, and declined the presidency in January, 2010.
King is CEO of the King Center. Her goal as CEO of The King Center, and in life, is to ensure that her father’s nonviolent philosophy and methodology (which The King Center calls Nonviolence 365) is integrated in various sectors of society, including education, government, business, media, arts and entertainment and sports. King believes that Nonviolence 365 is the answer to society’s problems, and promotes it being embraced as a way of life. King is also the CEO of First Kingdom Management, a Christian consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia.