King's heirs still grap­pling with his killing 50 years later

South Florida Times - - OBITUARIES - By ERRIN HAINES WHACK

AT­LANTA (AP)- On April 4, 1968, a move-ment lost its pa­tri­arch when the Rev. Mar-tin Luther King Jr. was killed on a ho­tel bal­cony in Mem­phis. Yolanda, Mar­tin, Dex­ter and Ber­nice King lost their fa­ther.The loss has not got­ten eas­ier in 50 years, but his three sur­viv­ing chil­dren each bear it on their own terms. “That pe­riod, for me, is like yes­ter­day, ''said Dex­ter King, now 57. “Peo­ple say it's been 50 years, but I'm liv­ing in step time. For­get what he did in terms of his ser­vice and com­mit­ment and con­tri­bu­tion to hu-mankind ... I miss my dad. ''His chil­dren cling to the few mem­o­ries they have left of him. For years, they have had to pub­licly mourn a man who was among the most hated in Amer­ica at thetime of his death - a task they have been re­luc­tant and, at times, an­gry to carry out.Now that King is among the most beloved fig­ures in the world, his heirs are forced to share him with the mul­ti­tudes who have laid claim to his legacy. For more than adecade, they have had to do this with­out two of the fam­ily's cor­ner­stones: their mother, Coretta Scott King, who died in2006, and el­dest child, Yolanda, who diedin 2007.As adults, the sib­lings have earned a rep­u­ta­tion over their in­fight­ing, which has spilled into ran­corous law­suits over heir-looms in­clud­ing their fa­ther's Bi­ble and No­bel Peace Prize. Today, the three say they are in a “good place'' and have man-aged to com­part­men­tal­ize their dif­fer-ences and come to­gether as a fam­ily in­times of dif­fi­culty. Their rec­ol­lec­tions are a re­minder that atthe cen­ter of this tragedy was a young fam­ily, robbed of a lov­ing hus­band and fa-ther, who was just 39. All are older nowthan King was. The trib­utes to their dad -from the build­ings and streets that bear his­name, to stat­ues in his home state and in­the na­tion's cap­i­tal - are points of pride, but also con­stant re­minders of the void he left. Mar­tin Luther King III's eyes crin­kle into a smile as he re­calls the hap­pier times: in­the pews at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church on Auburn Av­enue in At­lanta help­ing his dad greet new mem­bers, toss­ing a foot­ball or base­ball on the lawn of the fam­ily home, swim­ming les­sons at the YMCA. When he came home from the front lines in the fight against racism, King's somber ex­pres­sion would give way to smiles anda play­ful mood. For them, he was not an­i­con, but a buddy. King III and his brother also trav­eled with King. Months be­fore he was killed, they ac-com­panied King as he mo­bi­lized peo­ple in South Ge­or­gia to at­tend his up­com­ing Poor Peo­ple's Cam­paign in Wash­ing­ton. “That was our time for ca­ma­raderie,'' re-called King III, now 60.King III said he can still get emo­tional around his fa­ther's death. If he lis­tens too closely to King's “Drum Ma­jor In­stinct'' speech, in which the preacher muses about want­ing to live a long life, he still gets moved to tears.For years af­ter­ward, King III tensed when­ever he saw a news bulletin like the ones that told him his fa­ther was killed, or that his un­cle, A.D. King, had been found dead in his swim­ming pool, or that his grand­mother had been killed by a mad-man while play­ing the or­gan at Sun­day ser­vice at Ebenezer - all while he was stilla child. “I was afraid, be­cause I was like, `Is this go­ing to be some­thing else that hap­pens to our fam­ily?''' he said. Ber­nice King, the youngest, was once en-vi­ous of her sib­lings, who had many more mem­o­ries of King. Shared sto­ries from her mother, sis­ters and brother, as well as home movies, helped hu­man­ize her fa­ther. Nick­named “Bunny,'' Ber­nice King said she cher­ishes the scant mo­ments she re-mem­bers shar­ing be­tween fa­ther and daugh­ter, like the “kiss­ing game'' they would play. “That stayed with me so vividly,'' said Ber­nice, now 55. “I'm glad I had that, be-cause ev­ery­thing else, other than a few mem­o­ries of be­ing at the din­ner ta­ble, Idon't re­call. I wish I knew him more. ''She ad­mit­ted to strug­gling with hav­ing to share her par­ents with strangers over the years. “It both­ered me,'' she said. “It's hard to­have the pri­vate mo­ments ... It's like every-body else has a part of him, and that's al-ways hard to deal with. But I won't let it get in the way of what they have done and what they mean to the world. ''That night and the days that fol­lowed the killing re­main frozen in Dex­ter King's mem­ory. He re­mem­bers his mother telling them some­thing had hap­pened to their fa-ther as she pre­pared to head to the air-port. Af­ter Coretta Scott King left, their care­giver an­swered the kitchen tele-phone, started scream­ing and fell back-ward. Dex­ter, then 7, knew the worst had hap-pened. When King's body re­turned to At­lanta, Dex­ter re­mem­bered run­ning up and down­the aisle of the air­plane and see­ing his fa-ther's cof­fin on the floor. “I asked my mom, `What's that?''' he said. “She ex­plained, ‘Your dad is go­ing to be sleep­ing when you see him and he won't be able to speak with you. He's gone hometo be with God. '''Dex­ter King spoke of his fa­ther's warmth and play­ful­ness, a de­par­ture from the se-ri­ous ap­proach he took to his work. See­ing him in his roles as pas­tor and civil rights leader, Dex­ter King said he and his sib-lings were aware that their fa­ther's work was im­por­tant. “You saw the in­ter­ac­tion and the en­ergy, just the way peo­ple re­acted to him,'' he­said.He was again struck by the peo­ple's re-ac­tion at his fa­ther's fu­neral, as a seem-in­gly end­less sea of mourn­ers formed a fu­neral pro­ces­sion through At­lanta. “There's Dad, and there's the leader the­world owns,'' Dex­ter con­tin­ued. “Gener-ally, I ac­cept that. But he had a fam­ily. As kids, we did not choose this life. And Idon't know that my dad chose it. It re­ally chose him. We're hu­man, and in some­ways, we're still griev­ing.''

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.