Where Are Martin Luther King Jr.’s Relatives Now? The Women In His Family Continued His Legacy
It's been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. April 4, 1968, marked the end of the minister's own civil rights activism but just the beginning for that of many of his family members. King's relatives have been busy with their own anti-racism work for decades and have not only continued his legacy but also created one of their own. Here's what the women in King's family have been doing since his death.
One female descendant in particular has been making national headlines recently. She's the latest King to capture the spotlight — and the youngest: Yolanda Renee King won hearts with an impassioned speech at the March for Our Lives that evoked her grandfather's famous "I Have A Dream" address from 45 years earlier.
"My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," she told the crowd. "I have a dream that enough is enough. That this should be a gun-free world. Period." She then led the audience in a chant advocating change and expressed the conviction that her generation will be "great." Yolanda is only 9 years old.
But she's just one especially recent example of the activism of King females. In terms of role models, Yolanda has her grandfather but also a whole family full of inspirational women to look up to. Here are some of them.
Coretta Scott King
Perhaps King's most well-known family member is his wife, Coretta Scott King, who continued to fight for civil rights until her death from ovarian cancer complications in 2006. Some of her work centered on preserving her husband's legacy; she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and helped institute a national holiday in his name.
But she's also been a major anti-racism activist in her own right, giving frequent speeches on the topic and working to register black voters. King Jr. himself spoke about how his wife's commitment to civil rights was independent from his own. "I wish I could say, to satisfy my masculine ego, that I led her down this path," he said in 1967. "But I must say we went down together, because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now."
In 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter asking Congress to block Jeff Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship because he'd engaged in "reprehensible conduct" toward black voters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was interrupted while reading this letter during Sessions' attorney general nomination hearing, inspiring Sen. Mitch McConnell to say "nevertheless, she persisted," which became a feminist battlecry.
Throughout her life, King also spoke out in favor of union workers and women's rights and against South African apartheid and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Martin Luther King Jr. had two daughters, Bernice and Yolanda. Bernice is currently 55 years old; she's been involved in activism all her life and was arrested for nonviolent protest at the age of 22 while demonstrating against apartheid with her mom and brother.
More recently, she spoke out gun violence and racial profiling in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death. In a speech honoring the 50th anniversary of her father's "I Have a Dream" speech, she argued that the jury's decision to acquit Martin's murderer proved that the United States was "still crippled" by racism.
Like her father, Bernice works as a minister.
Yolanda died in 2007, just a year after her mother, but not before she'd managed to accomplish more than a lifetime's worth of civil rights advocacy.
She regularly spoke out about the persistence of racism in the United States and expressed frustration with what she believed to be complacency in her generation. People her age were "forgetting the sacrifices that allowed them to get away with being so laid-back," she said in a 1985 speech.
She was also involved in the arts: She joined with the daughter of Malcolm X to found the Nucleus theater company, which produced social justice-oriented plays, and often acted in them herself.
Yolanda Renee King
The March for Our Lives wasn't Yolanda Renee King's first public speaking gig. She also led a chant in honor of her grandfather at his Washington, D.C. memorial earlier this year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is likely just the start of a long life of activism for the 9-year-old.
Christine King Farris
At 90 years old, Willie Christine King Farris is the only surviving sibling of Martin Luther King Jr. She's often spoken out in commemoration of her brother's legacy and has written several books on him and the family.
However, not all of King's relatives have been radical champions of progressive causes.
One of his nieces, Alveda King — who is currently 67 years old — has a strong conservative record and has defended President Trump's policy record for black Americans. She's pro-life and against gay marriage. She's contributed to Fox News and the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a conservative think tank (she's a Republican now, but identified as a Democrat when she served in Georgia's state government in the '80s).
And though Coretta Scott King and Yolanda King were strong proponents of LGBT rights, his daughter Bernice is not, and she even participated in a 2004 march against gay marriage.
When honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, we must also remember the King women who have helped it endure and fought in their own right for the same causes. Just ask Coretta Scott King — she knew something about the importance of female activism. She once said, "Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul."