Conversations: Like her dad, Bernice King has a dream
Bernice King talks about her father's death, her call to ministry, and what the church still needs to do about racism.
June 16, 1997
Bernice King was only five years old when her father, civil-rights leader the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Today she is a 33-year-old woman who has amazed herself by following in her father's footsteps and becoming a minister. An associate minister at the Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Reverend Bernice King heads a singles ministry.
Here King speaks about the persisting racism within society and the challenge to make her father's dream a reality even in the church—topics she addressed in her recently published first book, Hard Questions, Heart Answers (Broadway). In her candid responses, you can hear echoes of her father's cadences, but the voice and the vision—inspiring and challenging—are clearly her own.
King also talks openly about her suicidal state (about a year before she accepted her call to the ministry) and her family's desire to see James Earl Ray, the man accused of killing her father, finally get a trial.
How do you view race relations in the United States more than a quarter-century after your father's death?
I think we have become stagnant. Nobody really wants to deal with the depth of the issue, nobody wants to deal with the historic pain and confusion that's associated with it.
As the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson cases demonstrate, we haven't found real unity.
I think the O. J. Simpson case helped us realize that we cannot sugarcoat the problem and expect it to go away. It's deeper than that. These cases opened the dialogue to an extent, but it was the same old dialogue. It wasn't the dialogue of saying, "Look, we have a problem. We really need to sit down and dig into it and deal with it."
People want to dismiss the problem, just stay on ...