Martin Luther King’s Daughter Echoes Style : Ministry: His style is carried on by another preacher concerned about civil rights--his youngest child, the Rev. Bernice King.
Nearly a quarter-century after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down by an assassin, the preaching style of another minister concerned about civil rights is generating comparisons.
That minister is his youngest child, the Rev. Bernice King, who was 5 years old when the civil rights leader died in 1968.
“It almost makes you believe preaching is hereditary,” said former Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta after hearing the young woman preach at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a congregation whose history is entwined with that of the elder King.
Bernice King, 28, the only one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s four children to follow him into the ministry, said her mother also makes such comparisons, and she finds them “eerie,” but also comforting.
“It sort of confirms for me that he is my father,” she said. “There was a time when I didn’t feel that relationship. I feel a little closer now, a greater kinship.”
“So many of her mannerisms and so much of her style is so much like her daddy,” said Young, a minister himself. “It was a very emotional occasion for me.” The occasion for his remarks was a trial sermon the young woman delivered.
Like her father, Bernice King is deeply concerned about civil rights, but she comes at her concerns about injustice from the perspective of a different era and a different personality.
For Martin Luther King, racism in America was addressed as a clash of communities, but today, his daughter feels, to continue to look to white people for solutions is paralyzing.
For African-Americans today, the needs are psychological, rather than sociological, she said. “We have to take some responsibility. We have to release the psychological bonds.”
At the same time, King said she is cautious about expressing views on civil rights because she knows her opinions are likely to be interpreted in light of the past.
King’s determination to carry on a long family tradition--to follow not only her father, but also her grandfather and great-grandfather, into the ministry--was a hard and emotional decision, one that led her to change her life’s goal.
She said she was 17 and aspiring to become the nation’s first female President when she discovered tears streaming down her checks as she watched a film about her father’s life. Scenes of his funeral flooded the screen, and she found herself feeling bitter toward the church and asking, “Why, why, why? Why did he leave? Why did God take him? Why didn’t I have a father?”
At the same time, she recognized that his death had been related to his commission from God, she said, and gradually her resentment gave way to a vague feeling that she would follow him into the ministry.
In the eight years that followed, she tried to shove that feeling aside, even as her grandfather, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., longtime pastor of Ebenezer Church, urged her to follow her “call.”
When, after earning degrees in law and divinity, she was ordained to the ministry last year, her grandfather was not there to see it. He died in 1984.
Currently, she is negotiating for an assistant pastor’s position in the Atlanta area while working as a law clerk for Fulton County Juvenile Court. Finding ways to help young people with drug-related problems is one of her main concerns there, and she expects her interest in young offenders to follow her into any pastoral assignment.
King, often described as the quietest of the civil rights leader’s four children, is surprised herself at her role. “I think everyone else was surprised, too,” she said. “You would have thought it would have been Martin III or Dexter.”
Echoing her father’s commitment to live courageously, she said, “I’ll do whatever I can, and leave the rest to God.” But she finds her heritage to be a daunting reality at times.
“The most intimidating part for me has to do with the whole legacy, and knowing it is a legacy in line with the Christian tradition. I think about Abraham and his son Isaac, and it’s kind of frightening.”