(KUNM Airdates: PART 1 - 1/28/05, PART 2 - 2/25/05)

"All my friends, if there is any one thing that I would like for you to remember this evening, it is the fact that somebody must have some sense in this world. Somebody must have sense enough to meet hate with love. Somebody must have sense enough to meet physical force with soul force. If we will but try this way, we will be able to change these conditions, and yet at the same time, win the hearts and souls of those who have kept these conditions alive." --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this special two-part Peace Talks, two women with very close ties to Martin Luther King Jr. reflect on how King developed into one of the great moral and political philosophers of the 20th century and how his philosophies might still guide the world through troubled times today.

Yolanda King is the eldest daughter of Dr. King. She is an internationally known motivational speaker and actress whose personal mission in life is to inspire positive social change and world peace.

Dr. Dorothy Cotton was the highest ranking female in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Dr. King. From 1960 to 1972 Dr. Cotton was the educational director for SCLC and worked very closely with Dr. King.

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(transcription courtesy Rogi Riverstone)

What do you remember about your father at home when you were young?

YOLANDA KING: My father was a buddy-daddy. He really spent most of his time with us playing, having fun, doing things that children love to do, which is, of course, play. He didn’t believe in spanking kids. Of course, my mother said if he had spent more time with us, he probably would have changed his mind [laughs]. But when he was with us, he really just loved us. Loved on us. And the time was short, but it was quality time. And my dad was really quite a funny man. He was a bit of a cut-up. He was a jokester. He loved to tease, he loved to laugh. He probably could have been quite an athlete as well. He taught me to swim when I was four and taught me how to ride a tricycle and then into a bicycle, and we played basketball and baseball and went to the local amusement park. He and I, the two of us, would ride the dangerous shake-you-up rides, he called them “faith machines.” We’d get on them and just have a ball, he was a big kid.

I realize, now, that those were the times - some of the few times - when he really had to let his hair down and relax. So, that playful side of him, which was very much a part of who he was, he shared with us. And I'm thankful for that, because the Martin Luther King, Jr. that I know - the Daddy that I know - was a very different person from Martin Luther King, Jr. that everybody reveres.

Yolanda King

Interviewer Carol Boss

How old were you when you felt you really understood the impact of your father’s work? Was there a year when you knew it had clearly influenced the personal direction you would take in life?

YOLANDA KING: I was probably in my twenties. I struggled with a lot of the legacy for a long time, probably actually into my thirties, before I really made peace with it. Because needless to say, when you come from such a tremendous legacy, there are awesome responsibilities. And expectations, even more importantly. And so, being able to find a place where I can enter it and be fully myself and at the same time, I think, make a real contribution to carrying on the ideals, the values, the principles, that my father and my mother have lived for.

If you could talk for a couple of moments about your twenty-first century take on race relations, you've said before that you don't really espouse a "color blind" society, that it's naďve and probably unhealthy. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

YOLANDA KING: I remember seeing a t-shirt a couple of years ago. It said, "love sees no colors." I remember thinking, "well, that doesn't really express what love does." Love loves all colors. Love sees everything. Love appreciates, radiates, encompasses, and embraces everything. So, to pretend that we don't see, I think it's not healthy. And it's not natural. I don't think that we, as humanity, could ever reach that place. Because I think it's a very unrealistic way of looking at the world. In fact, we should really, actually be more tuned in to the beauty, the diversity, the different colors - the rainbow - this potpourri of vibrancy that is the human family.

I was just curious what you thought your father's foremost concerns would be in today's world, and the challenges for him.

YOLANDA KING: I have to always say, before I answer questions like that, that my father was ahead of his time when he was with us. Who knows where his focus would be. It's hard to say. But I certainly believe that one of the things that he would be most concerned about is the fact that we continue to be so bent on using militarism to solve every problem that we have. That's one of the things that I know he would be focusing on reminding us, so strongly, that this has just never worked. All it does is create vengeance and vindictiveness. I know that would be an issue, as well as the fact that the gulf between the "haves" and the "have-nots" still remains far too large. Those two issues he was championing at the end of his days. And, unfortunately, we continue to be plagued by them.

Do you consider the work that you do an evolution from his work?

YOLANDA KING: I do. I do. One of the programs that I’m most proud of, that is relatively recent launching through my company Higher Ground Productions, is the Inner Peace Circles, where we work with people on a monthly basis, we offer a tele-class and actually share with people the principles that I feel are really invaluable if one is going to attain a place of inner peace. Because my father was trying to take us as a nation, as a planet, this place of peace, this place of brotherhood and sisterhood, this world house he was trying to create where people could live together in peace and justice and with the kind of respect and appreciation for each other. I think we’re not going to ever get there if more and more of us – until more and more of us really understand how important and what our responsibility is to find our own place of inner peace and to deepen that peace. Because I truly believe that it reverberates, where if you are able to carry that place and embody that place of peace, then it obviously contributes to wherever you find yourself – in your home, in your workplace, in your community, in every aspect of your life. And if more and more of us our really committed to doing that, I think it could make a real difference on the planet.

Where my father was trying to take us as a nation, and as a planet, was this place of peace: this place of brotherhood and sisterhood, this world house that he was trying to create, where people could live together in peace and justice and with respect and appreciation for each other. I think we're not going to ever get there until more and more of us really understand how important it is and what our responsibility is to find our own, inner peace, and to deepen that peace. I truly believe that it reverberates. If you are able to carry that place, and embody that place of peace, then it, obviously, contributes to wherever you find yourself: in your home, in your work place, in your community, in every aspect of your life. And, if more and more of us are really committed to doing that, I think that it can really make a difference on the planet. So, that's one of the programs where I have focused my attention. And I do see it as an evolution. That's what I learned at home, what I learned as a child, growing up with these parents who not only talked peace and talked about how important it was to make a contribution. That you should be your best self: you should show your best side and look for the best in others. They lived it. And it took root in me.

Dr. Dorothy Cotton

Dr. King came from an economically comfortable family. But he noticed so many children whose needs were not met. In other words, he witnessed poverty around him. Then, Dr. King went to Moorehouse College. At Moorehouse, he read Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience. Dr. King, himself, talks about how he was really inspired and motivated by this essay on civil disobedience. So, he read it several times. That was his first exposure to nonviolent resistance. Here, he's just on a kind of intellectual journey to, and through, nonviolence.

Then, Dr. King ends up at seminary, after graduating college. He was now in a serious search to eliminate social evil because of the poverty he saw. He realized the reason was not because people didn't do work, but that there was something wrong in the society - most importantly. Again, this was still on the intellectual journey. He heard Dr. Mordecai Johnson speak at Howard University. Dr. Johnson was the President of the university. Mortichai Johnson had just returned from India. Dr. Johnson spoke of the life and teachings of Mahatmah Gandhi and his work to remove India from the yoke of British rule. And he became fascinated by Gandhi's campaigns of nonviolent resistance: the salt march to the sea and Gandhi's fasts. After he heard Dr. Mordecai Johnson, I remember, he said he ran out and bought a half-dozen books on the life and work of Mahatmah Gandhi.


He studied Reinhold Niebuhr. And, again he didn't agree with all of these people he was studying, but he found something in all of them, especially if he focused on The Sermon On The Mount and really began to look at different interpretations of love. The three Greek words for "love" are "Eros," "Phileo" and "Agape." What he wanted to emphasize was Agape, and that this really was the essence of nonviolence. So, he now moves from this intellectual sojourn to bringing it alive, and understanding that this interpretation of love meant understanding, redeeming, good will for all people. He realized that, if Agape was the essence of nonviolence, then we must have love in action. So it was right that he would respond to the people's protests against the way they were treated, in this instance, Montgomery, Alabama, the way Black folk were treated on the buses.

What would be Dr. King's assessment of where his vision of a beloved community stands in our world today - "the beloved community" being where people, committed to nonviolence, can create a new social order, based on justice and love?

DOROTHY COTTON: Dr. King was a visionary; he saw the possibilities. Even though he admitted - and would admit today - that we have a long way to go, I believe he would admit today - and would actually say - that, if we think nonviolence isn't working...we can make the analogy of pouring a bucket of water on a burning house....if a bucket of water doesn't put out a burning house, it doesn't mean that water does not put out fire. It simply means that we need more water. As we see the violence in the world today, we need to look at that. I think Dr. King simply would teach and preach and speak, even more strongly than he did in the days when he was actually with us. I think he would ask questions. He was grounded in Christian theology. "Thou shalt not kill" should apply, not just to individuals, but that it should apply to nations. I think that he would use his last bit of energy to try to get that message out. He had, indeed, said, "if I'm the last, lone voice calling for nonviolence, that I will do." And I believe that's what he'd be doing today.