“Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”
So says Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and director of the King Center in Atlanta.
There, the theme of this new year is “It Starts with Me.” She explained the meaning: For authentic change regarding race to take place in our nation, it has to start with each of us looking within ourselves.
“It’s a season of renewing, rededicating, refocusing and recalibrating,” she said. “The celebration around my father’s life occurs at the beginning of the year, it affords you an opportunity to reflect back, and then to think more intensely about what it is that needs to be done and fine-tuned or that needs to be shifted or changed. fFor those of us here at the King Center, we are really focused on our theme and the change that it will bring to our nation.”
This weekend’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday marks what would have been the great civil rights leader’s 94th birthday. He was born the same year as TV journalist Barbara Walters, who recently died, and German Holocaust victim and author Anne Frank.
This year, Bernice King emphasizes the role both her parents played in the Civil Rights movement. There would be no Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America were it not for the influence of Coretta Scott King, she said.
As a young, widowed single mother, Coretta felt called to carry out the legacy of the movement.
“I had the benefit of watching her in action,” Bernice King said. “I really attribute all of this to her lessons and her guidance. None of this could have been without her. I’m continuing obviously my father’s work, but I really feel more so that I am helping to form and fashion my mother’s legacy as well.
“My mother brought so much to this world, and people are not aware of it, which is why I’m excited to see the partnership between the King Center and Microsoft to tell her story within the next couple of months.”
“My mother used to say and believed that when the movement came, it was like, wow, she was a part of something that was winning a victory for humanity. Once she participated in that, she knew this is something that must perpetuate itself.”
That struggle is a never-ending process, however, she believes.
“We are at a place now that we really do have to clean out some of the debris that has been a part of the formation and the development and the perpetuation of our society and even our world — that has been very harmful and damaging and hurtful to people, … to their dignity and to their value. We have been created in the image of God to bring about this change, which is why it has to start within each of us.”
She remembers her mother telling her the background story of the Montgomery bus boycott.
“With their backs against the wall, they didn’t know what they would do. They would always have a strategy and a plan when different obstacles were presented in the Montgomery bus boycott. However, this time they didn’t know what to do because the city had filed an injunction against the old carpool. So now people were going to give up. They’re not going to keep boycotting those buses, because you know, they got to get to their jobs.
“So just when they thought all hope was gone, the Supreme Court hearing came down. Somebody brought the decision to my father while they were waiting in the local court for the decision. The Supreme Court’s decision outweighed state and local courts, and that was the dawn that was saying that your labor has not been in vain.
“And although it’s been difficult, dark, dangerous and, you know, we’ve had some hits and blows and maybe some losses, the dawn is now here. My daddy and the team decided we are not going to call the boycott. The decision had to get down to the state. That took a little bit more time, but that was their darkest hour.
The only thing I didn’t get to ask my mother before she died is, ‘How do you know when it’s the darkest?’”
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