Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the late civil rights legend and Coretta Scott King, was just a few months shy of 11 years old when his father was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
He went on to graduate from Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Among the many high-profile roles King has since taken on are community activist, county commissioner and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, the organization that his father served as its first president.
Like his father, King has led protest marches and has convened police brutality hearings.
“There’s a barbaric mentality today with police shootings of African Americans, but all of that can change when people rise up which is why I applaud Black Lives Matter,” King said. “One of the things we’ve not done in the past is mobilize people, different groups and this election coming up in November is important because we need a stopgap in Congress because this president doesn’t have an understanding of what goes on in communities of color.
“Right now the Republicans have the presidency, the House and the Senate,” he said. “But this coming election creates prospects of one or both houses being flipped to people who would have some sensitivity to these issues.”
King, the recipient of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s 2017 Lifetime Legacy Award, said he’s calling on African-American groups, Latinos, women’s organization, the LGBTQ community and others to get out and vote.
“That is what needs to happen in November so that come January 2019, we can get legislation that will help,” he said.
With the nation observing the holiday that honors his father, King said his mother deserves a lot of credit for the late activists’ success and for keeping his legacy alive.
“My mom is partially responsible for what my dad’s legacy is today because she stayed on the battle field and lived 40 years beyond my dad and she was able to establish the King Center just months after he died and this year will be 50 years since she did that,” King said.
He said the holiday doesn’t mean individuals should rest.
“For us, it’s a day of being engaged, cleaning up communities, helping seniors, helping our young people. It’s a holiday that’s something significantly different,” said King, whose schedule for the holiday includes a speech at the National Action Network’s annual breakfast in Washington.
King’s plans included laying a wreath at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and participating in a service project in honor of his father.
He recalled his father’s famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech and declared that the dream has yet to be fully realized.
“The dream has not been fulfilled. There’s an aspect that’s been accomplished because we have African-American billionaires and that was part of the dream, but we still have African-Americans in poverty, we disproportionately lead the pack in every major area whether its heart disease, diabetes or hypertension because of the level of stress that we as a people are forced to live under,” he said.
Today’s society remains racist, a factor that causes stress, King said.
“We’ve seen communities from around the world, those that come here and are able to start a business, get a business loan while we’ve been here forever and we’re not able to get business loans,” he said. “This isn’t to suggest that we should have a victim’s mentality. You have to acknowledge the problem and know that you can overcome it.”
Living in the shadows of his dad isn’t easy, but it provides certain unique opportunities to contribute, King said.
“If I attempted to wake up and live in his shoes, I’d fail miserably, but it’s a major blessing to have his name and to try to carry it in such a way to make my parents proud,” he said. “I want to continue the legacy that my parents forged. A legacy of fighting for freedom, justice and equality for all.”
King said his mother always encouraged him to think globally.
“My mom used to tell me there was a greater appreciation for my dad around the world that you don’t realize until you go to places like Bosnia, where in the city of Tuzla, the City Hall is on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and his message resonated there and in other parts of Eastern Europe, China and, of course, parts of Africa,” King said.
“When you speak in universal tones, people understand and they understood their plight also could be different and my father spoke for those who had no voice,” he said.
If his dad were alive today, his biggest concern would include nuclear war, health care and poor communities, King said.
The elder King would also cringe at the violence in communities like Chicago, Atlanta and other urban areas that have been plagued by killings, his son said.
“It’s at epidemic levels and we’ve got to do better and we can and must do better because we have the ability,” King said. “We’re currently looking at discussions around responsible gun legislation. For example, if someone wants to use a cell phone they must put in a code. Gun manufacturers can put a code on guns so that you know whose gun it was that was used. We have the technology.”
King also reminisced about his father’s close relationship with the Black Press.
“Not just ownership, but the writers for the Black Press,” King said. “Papers like the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Daily World, the newspapers in Washington. The Black Press was tremendously important then and it is important now because that’s where we get our information.”