'The movement was in her DNA'

Yolanda King, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jnr’s eldest child who pursued her father’s dream of racial harmony through drama and motivational speaking, has died. She was 51.

King died late on May 15 in Santa Monica, California, said Steve Klein, a spokesperson for the King Centre.
He said the family did not know the cause of death but though it might have been a heart problem.

“She was an actress, author, producer, advocate for peace and non-violence, who was known and loved for her motivational and inspirational contributions to society,” the King family said in a statement.

Former mayor Andrew Young, a lieutenant of her father’s who has remained close to the family, said Yolanda had just spoken at an event for the American Heart Association. She was helping the association raise awareness, especially among blacks, about stroke.

Young said she was going to her brother Dexter’s home when she collapsed in the doorway and “they were not able to revive her”.

Born on November 17 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, King was just an infant when her home was bombed during the turbulent civil rights era. She was a young girl during her father’s famous stay in the Birmingham, Alabama, jail. She was 12 years old when he died.

“She lived with a lot of the trauma of our struggle,” said the Reverend Jesse Jackson, an aide of Martin Luther King Jnr. “The movement was in her DNA.”

As an actress, she appeared in numerous films, including Ghosts of Mississippi, and even played civil rights heroine Rosa Parks in the 1978 miniseries King.

One of her father’s close aides in the civil rights movement, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, said he was stunned and saddened by the news of King’s death.

“Yolanda was lovely. She wore the mantle of princess, and she wore it with dignity and charm,” Lowery said. “She was a warm and gentle person and was thoroughly committed to the movement and found her own means of expressing that commitment through drama.”

The Reverend Al Sharpton, a black political leader, said he had expressed his condolences to her brother Martin Luther King III. Sharpton said Yolanda was a “torch bearer for her parents and a committed activist in her own right”.

“Yolanda never wavered from a commitment to non-violent social change and justice for all,” he said. “She was the first daughter of the civil rights movement and never shamed her parents or her co-activists.”

Yolanda was the founder and head of Higher Ground Productions, billed as a “gateway for inner peace, unity and global transformation”. On her company’s website, she described her mission as encouraging personal growth and positive social change.

She was also an author and advocate for peace and non-violence, and held memberships in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—which her father co-founded in 1957—and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Her mother, Coretta Scott King, died last year.

Yolanda King is survived by her sister, the Reverend Bernice A King; two brothers, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King; and an extended family.—Sapa-AP

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