News World Martin Luther King Jr’s teachings ‘still relevant’ 50 years after his murder

Martin Luther King Jr’s teachings ‘still relevant’ 50 years after his murder

dr bernice king
Dr Bernice King says young anti-gun protesters give her hope. Photos: ABC/Getty
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The trauma of sitting metres from where her father was shot is etched clearly on Dr Bernice King’s face.

So too is the courage that propelled her father to stand up in the face of deadly threats armed only with words.

“This is always remembered as the spot and the place, you don’t forget that,” she told 7.30 in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated 50 years ago.

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was killed, has now been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum.

It was only 27 years after his death that Bernice King felt able to return to the city where her father died fighting for the rights of sanitation workers.

“I did a book and I was invited here and I swallowed real hard and decided to come, but I came and left,” Bernice King said.

“And then I met a young lady who’s now my best friend, and she’s from Memphis. I said, God has a sense of humour.”

Bernice King was just five years old when her father died and the image of her in a white dress at his funeral was among the most heartbreaking.

“I’d just turned five, in fact seven days before his assassination, and so most of my memory is short,” she said.

“He and I had a special bonding experience through this kissing game we used to play. When he would come off of the road, I would run up into his arms and he would lift me up and say ‘we’re going to play the kissing game today’. And each one of us had a different spot on his face and he called it a ‘sugar spot’.”

US ‘still struggling with the content of character’

Today Bernice King is chief executive of the King Centre and has responsibility for continuing her father’s legacy.

So does she think America has reached a point where she and her siblings are judged on the content of their character, rather than the colour of their skin, as her father famously dreamed?

“I think America’s still struggling with the content of the character,” she said.

“We can’t continue to perpetuate these inequities. They’re not healthy, they’re not fair. They’re certainly not what God would have us to live like.”

In his famous I Have A Dream speech, Martin Luther King Jr also hit out at police brutality.

Police shootings of unarmed black men continue with depressing regularity, the most recent being Stephon Clark in Sacramento.

“Right now it’s looked at very biased: ‘This person frightened me, scared me and I had to react’.

“I don’t know how you get away with that when you’re shooting people in the back,” she said.

“How you can get away with that and a person’s on the ground and their face is on the ground? I don’t see how people get away with that.”

‘When you see young people rise up, there’s hope’

Still the dream lives on for Bernice King.

She was particularly buoyed after seeing last month’s March On Washington where young people, including her niece Yolanda, demanded gun control.

“Whenever you see young people rise up the way that they have, there’s hope, because every movement for social change in the world was fuelled by young people,” she said.

“You know, people forget Dad was 26 when he started the movement.”

As well as the large numbers of protesters, she was buoyed by their civility and is urging them to continue to strike that tone.

“Dr King was effective because he spoke from a place of true love for humanity. He really didn’t have an enemy. His enemy was injustice and evil. It wasn’t people.

“He understood that people are flawed. There are very few purely evil people in the world. And so he knew that there was good in the worst of us, and bad in the best of us.”

As thousands gather in Memphis to remember her father, Bernice King hopes America will continue to remember her father’s legacy.

Some day then his dream may become a reality.

“I would like people to know that his teachings are still very relevant. His non-violent teaching, his non-violent philosophy and methodology, and as we keep commemorating him, it’s like the universe is saying to us, this is the way you’re going to create your just society.

“It’s going to keep coming at us until we get it right and right means non-violence is the ultimate and the best way for a society to truly coexist with itself.”


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