Bernice King: All Must-Knows of Martin Luther King Daughter

December 09, 2021 6 min read

Bernice King: All Must-Knows of Martin Luther King Daughter

More than half a century has passed since the world lost Martin Luther King. His legacies, including his sons and daughters, have completely changed the way people see the struggles for civil rights.  

Bernice Albertine King, daughter of Martin Luther King, has made outstanding contributions to equality, the culture of peace, and the values of nonviolence. Having lost her beloved father at just 5 years old, enduring losses and struggles throughout her adult life, Bernice King turned her grief into action. She has gone further than anyone in fighting for true equality in the world. 

From The Hurt Child… 

“People don't know me. The first reaction is evaluation. Some people think I'm stoic, cold, and distant. Some say I'm arrogant. It's unfortunate because they don't know my heart." 

Baptist Bernice King - Youngest Daughter of Martin Luther King 

In the memory of many people, this 58-year-old woman was "framed" in the image of a 5-year-old girl bewilderedly leaning into her mother Coretta Scott King's lap at her father's funeral in 1968.

Moneta Sleet Jr., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The pain of losing the dearest father is still etched in Bernice King's memory. This loss is also a grieving beginning for the successive pains that have weighed heavily on her life. 

As a teenager, Bernice King struggled with anger issues. In the face of unbearable trauma, this young woman's reaction is always rage to protect her inferiority and inner vulnerability. She herself is also aware that the pain of losing her father has never subsided. 

"I didn't have a father to deal with about boyfriends. I didn't have a father to show me how a man and woman related in a family setting." 

A year after her father's death, her uncle suddenly dropped out of a family vacation in Jamaica only to be found dead in a swimming pool in his hometown of Atlanta. When the pain of losing her father had not yet subsided, the funeral of her uncle who had replaced her father made young Bernice deeply understand "loss". 

After that, death kept haunting the King family. In 1974, her grandmother was shot down outside the church. In 2006, her mother, the great civil rights activist Coretta Scott King died of cancer.

Photo taken by blackamericaweb.com

A year later, Yolanda King, her only sister, also died of a stroke. The family ties are broken one by one. During the past years, her mother has been a spiritual refuge for her, an example for Bernice King to continue on her parents' path of struggle. On the other hand, her older sister - an actress - is the one who keeps the brotherly bond in the house. 

“I put up walls for a reason. As you grow up with tragedy as we did, you will become as cautious as we are.” 

During her teenage years, Bernice King did not have much time to confide in her mother. As a single widow with four children, Coretta Scott King had to shoulder the responsibility of developing the human rights movement - her husband's legacy. Despite suffering great pain from a very young age, the burdens on Martin Luther King's daughter made her only able to keep her fears to herself to ponder. In addition, the strong sisterly affection made the sister's death "more unacceptable than the mother's death". 

Yolanda Bernice King taken by tributes.com

And from there, the gap between Bernice King and his two brothers grew even bigger. They often take each other to court just because of the money-making legacy left by their parents. Her two older brothers, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, also followed in their parents' footsteps. Experiencing a tumultuous childhood without learning coping skills, this woman has built herself a layer of thorny armor in the face of criticism and pressure. 

“I feel I feel that life has treated me badly. I want my loved one back. That's why it hurts others." 

…To The Powerful Women 

Despite being presented with this tragic event at such a young age, Bernice obviously shares her parents' desire for justice. At the age of seventeen, King was called to the ministry. Dr. Bernice King, like her father, became a pastor. She started involved in preaching and is still doing so now. 

"Bernice King youngest of M.L.K. children" by John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Without my ministry, I would just be Martin Luther King's daughter. You know, when people call me that, it doesn't bother me anymore. I know I am not my father. I know I am me.” 

Soon afterward, since her mother was unable to attend on that occasion, she delivered a speech opposing South African apartheid to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. in Atlanta, King was jailed with her brothers twice in 1985 and 1986 due to marching outside the Southern Christian Leadership Conference offices against apartheid. 

Dr. Bernice King graduated from Spelman Institution, a historically black college, with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Dr. King is only one of many noteworthy alumni who have graduated from the school. While in graduate school, King worked as a student intern at one of Atlanta's most notorious housing developments, Perry Homes. The initiative helped the inhabitants find work. She has devoted her studies and career to fighting for freedom and fairness throughout the United States. 

"Dr. Bernice King Press Conference" by Public Broadcasting Atlanta is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

She then went on to get a Master of Divinity and a Doctorate of Law from Emory University. These enormous accomplishments are motivation enough for Dr. King to be a woman that others strive to be like, but her achievements do not end there.  

King delivered her trial sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1988, where both her father and grandfather were preachers. In 1990, she obtained her degrees from Emory University in the morning and was ordained into the ministry in the evening. This day would also be the 25th anniversary of her father's assignment.

King worked as a pulpit assistant for several years before moving to Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in 1992, where she established the praise team, women's and youth ministries, and the ministers-in-training program. In 1995, King was appointed as an assistant pastor. She attended Nelson Mandela's inauguration in South Africa this year. 

“It was no accident that Nelson Mandela was chosen by God to lead the people of South Africa. There are very few people who could be imprisoned, kept away from their family and loved ones, and exit that same prison with such a powerful spirit of love and a desire for reconciliation.” 

Photo taken by smithsonianmag.com

King had the honor of working as a law clerk in the Fulton County Juvenile Court system for Judge Glenda Hatchett, Georgia's first African American chief presiding justice of a state court and the department head of one of the country's biggest juvenile court systems. During her stay, King worked as a rehabilitation-outreach coordinator and counseled juvenile court inmates. She has also volunteered as a mentor to a group of fifth-grade girls at an Atlanta primary school. In 1992, King was admitted to the Georgia State Bar. 

King serves as a minister at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, which is led by Bishop Eddie Long. King, in addition to being a speaker, orator, and evangelist, has planned and organized a number of conferences, seminars, and workshops for people from all walks of life. 

She has successfully conducted conferences for women and families, as well as nonviolent conflict resolution conferences for college and university students. She has also taught a racial relations program at Mississippi College in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as a year-long leadership development seminar. 

Dr. King is not only a minister, but she is also the CEO of the King Center, an institution founded by Coretta Scott King to carry on the work that she and her husband began. Dr. Bernice King's work at the institution aims to continue the legacy started by her parents. 

LBJ Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

King is a co-founder of Active Ministers Engaged in Nurturing (AMEN) and the Chair of the National King Week College and University Student Conference on Kingian Nonviolence's national advisory committee.  

But the injustices and tragedies of her life did not make Martin Luther King's daughter surrender to fate. She fought to uphold her family's legacy. Today, she also shows strong support for equal rights protests, such as "Black Lives Matter". In particular, throughout her life, she always emphasized the nonviolent thought of Martin Luther King. She was and will always treasure her great father. 

What’s More? 

When Martin Luther King shared his dream with the world, Bernice King was only a few months old. She did not have the opportunity to hear from her father's ideals to his most intimate teachings. Perhaps because of this, she later admitted that she had a penchant for being a supporter of children with only one parent.  

Continuing the legacy of her parents, Bernice King is still struggling to spend her life fighting for the good. For her, her mother's words have always been a guideline for her life and for the young people who are following her: 

“Fighting is a process with no end. You win it or win your own generation.” 


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