Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy


Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to visit my grandfather’s alma mater, Morehouse College, and listen to the featured speaker of their Leadership Series, Dr. Alveda King.

Although she is a pro-life advocate, author, and former state congressman, she is probably most known as the niece of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK).

My heart was lifted to see the next generation coming out to hear the words of wisdom that came from a woman who was walking out the legacy put forth by her own father, her famous uncle, as well as her grandfather.

While there were many things that she shared with this predominantly young audience, I was struck by two stories in particular, for I think her testimony has profound implications for all of us.

Interestingly, in both accounts, she acknowledged that she was simply responding to the accounts of her time. First, she told about how the state of Georgia came to recognize the accomplishments of MLK.

According to Dr. King (Alveda), during her days as a state representative, one of her accomplishments was to help pass legislation that would recognize the accomplishments of her uncle.

Despite the fact that MLK was born in Georgia, was recognized as a world leader, and one of the most influential people of the past century, having such recognition bestowed on someone who was not a president seemed to be controversial. In fact, the legislation to bestow the honor on her uncle was held up in the legislative process.

What struck me was that rather than gaining the needed votes through political compromising or unscrupulous tactics, she said she essentially persisted and pleaded for lawmakers to do the right thing. And eventually they did. Then, a few years later, President Reagan signed into law a bipartisan bill that honored MLK Day as a federal holiday.

The other, and most profound story for me, concerned Dr. King’s (Alveda) reaction to the news that her uncle had been shot. On the day of the assassination, she was just a young girl, but, sadly, she understood racial injustice.

Upon hearing her uncle had been shot, she recounted how upset she was and that she started crying profusely and declaring emphatically, “I hate white people! They killed my uncle! I hate white people. …”

At that crucial point, in the moment of her pain and seemingly uncontrollable emotional outburst, her grandfather took her aside and gently explained to her that white people marched alongside her uncle and fought for the same things he did. Moreover, God loves all people. Therefore, one should not hate people (white or black).

As she shared this pivotal moment in her life, I envisioned the tender words and comforting arms of her grandfather, washing away the seeds of anger and racial resentment that seem to entrap the souls of so many — who have experienced great wrongs — in fields of bitterness and despair.

To the contrary, the words of this grandfather (and MLK) were rooted in the more fruitful seeds of love, and laid the foundation of her lifelong mission of service and political activism.

In both stories, I am struck by how easy it is for us to take the actions of a few and use them as justifications to judge and hate those who do us wrong and project that anger to an entire group.

However, the example of Dr. King (MLK), his father, and Alveda King, encourages us to point out the injustice (i.e., sin), but to love the person being offensive (i.e., sinner), and respond to acts of hatred with words of truth and love.

While such words seem simple and trite, they are so much harder to achieve, especially today. But I would hope that for at least today, Dr. King’s 85th birthday, and on MLK Day next week, we can all celebrate the legacy of peace he has left our nation and the world.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]