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.”
“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
“My father was sent to do a very specific job. . . .”Yolanda Denise King, 1985