Jan 17, 2023

Martin Luther King III Reflects on Dr. King’s Legacy in Divided Times Transcript

Martin Luther King III Reflects on Dr. King’s Legacy in Divided Times Transcript
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Martin Luther King III, Dr. King’s eldest son and a global human rights advocate, discusses his father’s legacy. Read the transcript here.

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John Yang (00:00):

Today is the 94th birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Monday is the federal holiday honoring him. Since the 1990s, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been a day of civic community and service projects. Martin Luther King III is Dr. King’s eldest son and a global human rights advocate. Mr. King, thanks so much for being with us today. This April, it will be 55 years since your father’s assassination. Obviously the world lost a leader that day, you lost a father, you lost your dad. What are your personal remembrances and thoughts looking back, for you and your family, looking back over these past 55 years?

Martin Luther King III (00:42):

Well, number one, every year I’m asked the question, “Have we achieved the dream that your dad envisioned?” And my answer unfortunately every year is we didn’t achieve it last year, but every January we have an opportunity to start anew. If you ask me about what I’m often thinking about, I have to remember the wonderful experiences. I only had a very short period of time with my dad, 10 years, but I did travel with him to see him in the context of his work. I did march with him, I did visit him at his office, we did go on some vacations from time to time. And so all of those kind of experiences, we rode bicycles together, I think about, particularly in January when we observe his birth.

John Yang (01:34):

What do you think his legacy is today?

Martin Luther King III (01:36):

He was a human being who was able to bring people together, groups that didn’t necessarily always agree. He was a coalition builder, and we need more coalition leadership today. We’re at the most divided time probably that we’ve ever been in the history of our nation, particularly our political leadership. Dad used to say, “We’ve got to inject nonviolence.” He wanted to eradicate the triple evils of poverty, racism and violence from our society. And clearly, there’s a lot of work that we have to do for those things to be eradicated. So I hope that people are renewed and get engaged in a way that they maybe have not had been engaged in the past.

John Yang (02:25):

What do you think he’d be focused on today? And in these divided times, what do you think would be animating his work today?

Martin Luther King III (02:33):

Every campaign he was involved in, he talked about voting rights and the expansion of that franchise. And he used to say that a voteless people is a powerless people. And one of the most important steps we can take is that short step to the ballot box. Our rights are being restricted in 2023 in a number of states, including my own state of Georgia, as opposed to expanded. We should be able to vote just like we pay our bills on computers, we shouldn’t have to even go to the polls unless we choose to. So I know he’d be focused there, but he’d also be focused on, again, the violence and poverty that exist in our society. We talk about 60 or so million, but there are far more than that who are living in poverty. That’s unacceptable in a nation that has such a vast amount of wealth. And then of course our violence is busting out at the seams. That has got to change. Dad used to say, “We must learn nonviolence or we may face nonexistence.” We do not want to face nonexistence, so hopefully we will learn nonviolence someday.

John Yang (03:33):

Well, I’m curious what you think about the fact that the day honoring your father has become a day of service.

Martin Luther King III (03:41):

That was certainly something my mother intended. When she and others helped to establish the holiday. She went to visit every United States senator and many members of the United States House of Representatives. It was not ever supposed to be a day where our traditional holidays are kickback, relaxing, going out and having a sale of some kind, this was always directed towards working to achieve and realize the dream that he had, of freedom, justice and equality for our humankind.

John Yang (04:16):

I know that you and your family have come up with a reading list of materials, not only by your father, but about your father. Why did you do that, and what is it that you want people to know, or especially younger people to know about your father?

Martin Luther King III (04:32):

Well, I think the best way to understand about Martin Luther King Jr. is to greet his own words and work. One specifically I’ll mention, while there are several we recommended through WorldCat, which is an app that encourages young, well, people to read, and one of those is called Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? My dad wrote that as his last book in 1967, and what he is talking about is the World House and how we work together to actually achieve components of the dream he envisioned. We’ve seen chaos, we must embrace and build community. Secondly, a book called Strength to Love. It’s a book of sermons. And each one of those sermons of his talks about what has taken place through the modern civil rights movement, and it gives us instructions on what we could and should and can be doing to make our nation better. But again, the main goal is to encourage people to read. And if you want to know about Martin Luther King, why not read his own words that he actually wrote, that give us examples of who he was and what we all can become?

John Yang (05:45):

Martin Luther King III, thank you very much.

Martin Luther King III (05:48):

Thank you.

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