Who Is Bernice King?
Reverend Bernice A. King (born March 28, 1963) is the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. After her father was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, a picture of King curled up on her mother's lap at the funeral became an iconic image. King was the only one of the family's four children to follow her father into the ministry; her preaching style is seen as similar to his. She is chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia.
Family Deaths and Funerals
When she was 5, Bernice King had to attend father Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father and grandfather had served as pastors.
In 2006, after ovarian cancer led to Coretta Scott King's death, King organized and delivered the eulogy at her mother's funeral. Despite her family's ties to Ebenezer, it was held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, where King was then an elder. (The larger church was also able to welcome more mourners.)
The year following her mother's death, King's sister Yolanda died in Santa Monica, California, after suffering a heart attack.
Growing up, King experienced the loss of other family members: A.D. King, her uncle, was found dead in his pool in 1969 (despite being a strong swimmer). And in 1974, her grandmother, Alberta King, was shot and killed while playing the organ at Ebenezer.
In Atlanta, King was a student at The Galloway School before going on to graduate from Douglass High in 1981. She initially attended Grinnell College in Iowa, but soon transferred to Spelman College. There, she received a B.A. in psychology in 1985.
Having felt a call to the ministry, but also wanting to forge her own path, King obtained a Master of Divinity and a Doctorate of Law from Emory University in 1990. She became a member of the Georgia bar and was later given an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Wesley College.
When Was Bernice King Born?
Bernice Albertine King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 28, 1963.
Bernice King on Trump
At a rally during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump told a crowd, "If [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," before adding, "Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know." King quickly voiced her disapproval via Twitter: "As the daughter of a leader who was assassinated, I find #Trump’s comments distasteful, disturbing, dangerous."
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as Trump prepared to take office, King spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church and received a standing ovation after stating, "God can triumph over Trump." Via Facebook, she shared advice about dealing with the incoming administration, with suggestions such as focusing on policy and holding nonviolent demonstrations.
Yet King has urged people to talk to each other even if they hold differing views, and told WSB Radio in January 2017, "Unlike some people, my father would try to meet with President-elect Trump because he recognizes that in order to move the agenda of justice, freedom and equality forward, you can’t just protest and resist. You also have to negotiate as well."
Use of Twitter
When a Pepsi ad showed Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a can of Pepsi at a tension-free protest, King tweeted a picture of her father being mistreated by the police and wrote, "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi."
After Senator Elizabeth Warren was stopped from sharing a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, King tweeted her support of Warren. In September 2017, while President Trump criticized football players for kneeling during the national anthem, King shared a photo of her father kneeling during a demonstration of his own, and noted that he'd been criticized for protesting as well.
Following a statement by John Kelly, Trump's chief of staff, that Robert E. Lee had been an honorable man and that a lack of compromise contributed to the Civil War, King shot back: "It’s irresponsible & dangerous, especially when white supremacists feel emboldened, to make fighting to maintain slavery sound courageous." And after Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore offered his opinion that America had been great "when families were united — even though we had slavery," King used Twitter to declare, "Greatness will NEVER include slavery."
Her Parents' Legacy
After King's father was killed, Coretta helped her children better understand him. Bernice King told the Washington Post in 2011, "She constantly taught us about service to humanity, and she would recite over and over again the scripture that my father taught us. 'He who would be the greatest among you must be the servant.'" Coretta had started the King Center in her basement; by taking the role of CEO in January 2012, Bernice King has been able to continue her parents' work.
In 2009, King was chosen as the first female president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which her father had co-founded and led. However, the group was in financial difficulties and experiencing infighting, and King ended up not stepping into the role.
King has three siblings: Yolanda Denise (1955-2007), Martin Luther III (b. 1957) and Dexter Scott (b. 1961).
King's brothers manage their father's estate, while she oversees the King Center and the archive of her father's papers there.
Book and Speeches
King authored Hard Questions, Heart Answers: Sermons and Speeches (1996). Her oratorical talents have drawn comparisons to her father's, and made her a sought-after speaker.
In 1980, King addressed the United Nations about apartheid (stepping in for her mother). And she energized the crowd at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1993 with a question: "My brothers and sisters, it is not enough to say that we marched with Dr. King 25 or even 30 years ago. We need to ask ourselves, 'What are we doing now?'"
Early Life and Call to Ministry
King was a quiet, shy child — nicknamed "Bunny" — who wanted to become the country's first black female president. With her father's work and travel, she was left with few memories of him, though she does recall kissing his forehead when he would come home. She sometimes felt angry and abandoned because her father was no longer there.
When King was 16 and away with a church youth group, she saw a documentary about the civil rights movement. At a mention of her father's funeral, she burst into tears and fled outside. For a time she doubted her commitment to God, but at 17 she felt called to the ministry.
King contemplated suicide in her 20s, a crisis that helped her accept the call to preach. She gave her first sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in March 1988, following in her father and grandfather's footsteps. In 1990, she was ordained at Ebenezer. She soon was serving as a minister at the Greater Rising Star Baptist Church.
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church
King went on to become a co-pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a megachurch headed by Bishop Eddie Long. While there, she participated in a 2004 march that called for a "return to family values" and a ban on gay marriage (this set King apart from Coretta, who saw a link between the civil rights movement and LGBT rights).
King left New Birth in 2011, around the time Long reached a settlement with young men who'd accused him of coercing them into sexual relationships, though she said this was not the reason for her decision.
In 2004, King stated about her father's death: "I know deep down in my sanctified soul that he did not take a bullet for same-sex unions." And she said in 2013, "I value marriage between a man and woman," though also noting it was ultimately society's decision to make.
After the 2015 Supreme Court decision that granted same-sex couples the right to marry, King issued a statement via the King Center that said in part, "It is my sincere prayer ... that the Supreme Court ruling encourages the global community to respect and embrace all LGBT global citizens with dignity and love."
King was just 5 months old when her father, in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, hoped "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Though this day has not yet arrived, with her speeches, preaching, mentoring, work at the King Center and beyond, King has helped push the country closer to her father's vision.
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