Back to Top

c. 1950s - 1960s

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a father, too

An icon to others, King made sure he circled home to spend time with his children

On April 4th, 1968, then-12-year-old Yolanda King turned to her mother and said “I hate the man who killed my daddy.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated just a few hours earlier, at one minute past six in the evening.

Coretta Scott King replied to her daughter: “Your daddy wouldn’t want you to.”

Martin Luther King was very close to his four children.  He and his wife Coretta had met at Boston University while both were students.  In 1953, they married at Coretta’s family home in Alabama. Yolanda was born two years later, Martin Luther King III (Marty) in 1957, Dexter Scott King in 1961, and Bernice in 1963.

Despite the increasingly frenetic and stressful demands he shouldered, King was committed to spending time with his family and the outings they took together, returning as often as possible to their home in Alabama.

He was not, though, a disciplinarian—that role fell to Corretta. 

On occasion, the older children would accompany King as he travelled. the younger Martin went with his father to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964, at age seven, where he saw Klansmen in their robes each night, and a man attacked and beaten savagely.

When King was shot and killed, he was standing on the Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis, where he was supporting striking garbage collectors.

Coretta recalled receiving a call from Jesse Jackson, who was present when King was shot—and all the children rushing in to her at once.  Yolanda was 12, Martin was 10, Dexter was seven and Bernice just five.

In the years that followed, Coretta felt that Bernice and Dexter were especially affected because of their age.

Bernice later said she only had impressions of her father which required validation through the memories of her mother and siblings—a reality which troubled her. At the same time, as she said almost 20 years later, “It seems as if it was only yesterday.”

1956
King relaxes at home with his Coretta and Yolanda in Montgomery, Ala.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
1958
King and family fly to Alabama from Idlewild Airport in Queens, N.Y.
Tom Gallagher/NY Daily News via Getty Images
1960
King, freed from jail under a $2,000 appeal bond, is greeted by his Coretta, Marty and Yolanda, at the airport in Chamblee, Ga..
Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Image
1960
King with his daughter in his arms.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images
“Sometimes I feel like, why do I have to share my father with the world? And then I come back to a place where I say, you know what, if you had to do all this over again … I would still have the story be the same.“
Bernice King, 2018
1960
King and Coretta, watching their son Marty, 3, pass a ball to Yolanda, 5, while playing at home.
Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
1960
The family sitting together as they play piano in their living room.
Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
1964
The boys and Yolanda.
Michael Ochs Archive/ Getty Images
1964
Coretta and the children.
Michael Ochs Archive/ Getty Images
1964
Coretta plays piano with the children.
Michael Ochs Archive/ Getty Images
“My father was sent to do a very specific job. . . .”
Yolanda Denise King, 1985
1968
Coretta and Yolanda sit in a car as it leaves for King’s funeral, Atlanta.
Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images
1968
King’s family in a car on the day of viewing his body as it lies in state at Sister’s Chapel at Spelman College. In the front is Dexter, 7, and Marty, 11. Behind them in the red coat on the left is Yolanda, 12, Coretta, and Bernice, 5.
Getty Images
1968
The family views King’s body
Getty Images
1968
Yolanda, Martin and Dexter at King’s funeral.
Getty Images
1968
Yolanda and Marty at the funeral.
Getty Images

Watch this

Common Joint Pain Therapy Could Be Harmful

see more from
More
>