Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the late civil rights legend and Coretta Scott King, was just a few months shy of 11 years old when his father died at the hands of an assassin in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
He went on to graduate from Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
Among the many high-profile roles King has taken on are that of community activist, county commissioner and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, the organization for which his father served as its first president.
Like his father, King has led protest marches and has convened police brutality hearings.
“There’s a barbaric mentality today with police shootings of African Americans but all of that can change when people rise up which is why I applaud Black Lives Matter,” King said.
“One of the things we’ve not done in the past is mobilize people and different groups and this election coming up in November is important because we need a stopgap in Congress because this president doesn’t have an understanding of what goes on in communities of color,” he said.
King continued: “Right now the Republicans have the presidency, the House and the Senate. But, this coming election creates prospects of one or both houses being flipped to people who would have some sensitivity to these issues.”
King, the National Newspaper Publishers Association 2017 Lifetime Legacy Award recipient, said he’s calling on African-American groups, Latinos, women’s organizations, the LGBTQ community and others to get out and vote.
“That is what needs to happen in November so that come January 2019, we can get legislation that will help,” he said.
With the nation observing the holiday that honors his father, King said his mother deserves a lot of credit for the late activist’s success and for keeping his legacy alive.
“My mom is partially responsible for what my dad’s legacy is today because she stayed on the battle field, lived 40 years beyond my dad and was able to establish the King Center just months after he died – this year marking 50 years since she did that,” King said.
He said the holiday doesn’t mean individuals should take a seat or a timeout.
“For us, it’s a day of being engaged, cleaning up communities, helping seniors, helping our young people. It’s a holiday that’s something significantly different,” said King, whose schedule for the holiday included a speech at the National Action Network’s annual breakfast in the District.
During the annual observance, he also joined others in laying a wreath at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and participated in a service project in honor of his father.
He recalled his father’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and declared that the dream has yet to be fully realized.
“The dream has not been fulfilled. There’s an aspect that’s been accomplished because we have African-American billionaires and that was part of the dream. But we still have African Americans in poverty, we disproportionately lead the pack in every major area whether it’s heart disease, diabetes or hypertension because of the level of stress that we as a people are forced to live under,” he said.
Today’s society remains racist, a factor that causes stress, King emphasized.
“We’ve seen communities from around the world who come here and are able to get a loan and start a business while we’ve [Blacks] been here forever and we’re unable to get business loans,” he said.
“This isn’t to suggest that we should have a victim’s mentality. You have to acknowledge the problem and know that you can overcome it,” King said.
Living in the shadows of his father isn’t easy but he admits that it provides certain unique opportunities to contribute.
“If I attempted to wake up and live in his shoes, I’d fail miserably but it’s a major blessing to have his name and to try to carry it in such a way to make my parents proud,” he said. “I want to continue the legacy that my parents forged – a legacy of fighting for freedom, justice and equality for all.”
King said his mother always encouraged him to think globally.
“My mom used to tell me there was a greater appreciation for my dad around the world that many may not realize until you visit places like Bosnia where the town of Tuzla has its city hall situated on a street named Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. His message resonates there and in other parts of Eastern Europe, China and, of course, parts of Africa,” King said.
“When you speak in universal tones, people understand. They understand that their plight could have been different and that my father spoke for them and others who had no voice,” he said.
If his dad were alive today, his biggest concerns would include the threat of nuclear war, healthcare and poor communities, King said.
The elder King would also cringe at the violence in communities like Chicago, Atlanta and other urban areas that have been plagued by killings, his son said.
“It’s at epidemic levels and we’ve got to do better. We can and must do better because we have the ability,” King said.
“We’re currently looking at discussions around responsible gun legislation. For example, if someone wants to use a cell phone they must put in a code. Gun manufacturers can put a code on guns too so that we can determine the owner of a gun if and when it’s used to carry out a crime. We have the technology.”
Finally, King reminisced about his father’s close relationship with the Black Press.
“Not just ownership but the writers for the Black Press. Papers like the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Daily World, the newspapers in Washington,” King said. “The Black Press was tremendously important then and it is important now because that’s where we get our information.”