Politics & Culture

How Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Family Honors His Legacy

The civil rights leader passed down his passion for social justice to his kids Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter, and Bernice.
Reading time 5 minutes

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, L'OFFICIEL celebrates the legacy of the civil rights movement leader and racial equality advocate, which is carried on today by Martin Luther King III and his other children. The Morehouse College graduate was a diligent fighter for people of color in America during a time when segregation and racism ran rampant. King believed in a nonviolent approach to advancing the civil and fundamental rights of marginalized groups. At the onset of his career, King presented himself as a well-equipped leader, and soon the entire country knew his name. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the March on Washington in 1963, King devoted his life to building a better future for Black people across America. He was arrested while protesting against the ill-treatment of his people in Birmingham, Alabama, and was subject to many brutal attacks of racist Americans, but still, he persisted. In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to combatting racism in a productive, yet nonviolent manner. Despite the heartwrenching occurrences of past months, King’s hard work has not been forgotten. It is a constant reminder that America must do better.

What is often left out of King’s triumphant story, is his similarly amazing family. In 1953, King married Coretta Scott, a woman he met during his time pursuing a doctorate at Boston University. Together, they had four children, Yolanda, Dexter, Bernice, and Martin Luther King III. All of King's children decidedly followed in their father’s footsteps and committed their lives to activism. It is this continued work that brings King’s legacy such unending longevity. In a moment when America is divided, it is crucial to recognize that there are still so many people working towards change. Join L'OFFICIEL in celebrating how King’s children encompass his fierce desire for racial equality.

Yolanda King

Yolanda (b. 1955) was King's first-born daughter. The Smith College graduate is remembered as an ardent activist for both civil and LGBTQ+ rights. While she has openly admitted that her father's footsteps were simply "too big" fill, Yolanda devoted her life to her family and their collective mission of upholding King's profound beliefs. In 2006, Yolanda experienced a fatal heart attack and died at the age of 51. Renowned poet Maya Angelou spoke at her funeral, uncovering that Yolanda dealt with a great deal of personal strife throughout her life, but still carried out her public responsibilities with a smile on her face.  

Martin Luther King III

King's namesake and oldest living son, Martin Luther King III (b. 1957), is an established leader within the civil rights community. He was the fourth president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a racial equity organization that his father founded, from 1997 to 2004. He has represented the Democratic party by speaking on behalf of President Barack Obama and has been outwardly critical of America's current leader, Donald Trump. King III's daughter, Yolanda Renee King, spoke at the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington D.C. in 2018. Even at the age of nine, she follows in her father's, and grandfather's, footsteps.

Dexter King

King's second son, Dexter (b. 1961), attended his alma mater, Morehouse College, and went on to pursue a life in advocacy. He acts as the chairman of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a nonprofit Atlanta-based organization founded by his family. He was appointed to this position, by his mother, Coretta. He has said that the King Center is "a West Point of nonviolent training." In addition to his racial equity work, he is an animal rights activist and consequently a dedicated vegan.

Bernice King

Bernice (b. 1963) is the youngest child of the civil rights leader. She was just five years old at the time of her father's passing. The Spelman College graduate earned a degree in psychology before becoming the second woman to be ordained at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father began his career as a pastor. Her stringent religious beliefs have led her to have opposing opinions from her siblings on social issues such as LGBTQ+ rights. Bernice also earned a Masters of Divinity and Doctorate of Law from Emory University and has served as the CEO of King Center since 2012. She continues to teach the nonviolent principles upheld by her father and family.

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