The civil rights leader’s youngest daughter believes King’s teachings are vital “now more than ever before.”
Bernice King had just turned five when she learned of her father’s assassination. It was 7:01 p.m. in Memphis when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, close to her bedtime, so she didn’t know about the tragedy until the next day.
Her mother, Coretta Scott King, headed to the airport the next day. When Coretta returned to Atlanta on April 5, 1968, Bernice and her siblings were taken to the airport to meet her and board a plane.
There would be no more dinners with Daddy. No more showering him with kisses when he came back from a trip. This was her introduction to death.
“My mother realized at that point she hadn’t prepared me,” Bernice told HuffPost during a recent phone interview. “And so, she had to explain to me that, ‘Your daddy’s dead, when you see him, he’s going to be laying in a casket. He won’t be able to speak to you, and his spirit has gone to live with God.’”
On April 9, the day of the funeral, Coretta played a portion of the sermon her husband had delivered just two months prior at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in which he prophetically gave his own eulogy.
“And again, remember, she told me he couldn’t talk to me, but a child knows their dad’s voice,” Bernice said, recalling her mother’s lesson about what spirits were through a simple hug and “Mommy loves you.” “So I started looking around for him.”
Even days after his death, the civil rights leader managed to deliver a timely message at his own funeral. Previous assassination attempts, FBI surveillance and constant threats didn’t make it too impossible for King to foresee his own killing. But his teachings brought wisdom and foresight that carry on ― even 50 years later.
The question has been asked time and time again, quite possibly more recently than ever before: What would King say if he were alive to see the world today?
According to his daughter, he’s already said it.
“Dr. King, who fought against … what he called the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism, is very relevant to us now, and I think we need to heed some of the things that he was trying to instruct us on while he was with us,” Bernice said.
The minister fought many battles during his lifetime. He helped challenge racism in the South with boycotts, sit-ins and marches in the spirit of what’s known today as Kingian Nonviolence. For over a decade, King put his life on the line during these demonstrations and was instrumental in bringing forth the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.