Memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A montage of personal remembrances from those who knew the civil rights leader best, including his late wife, Coretta Scott King, and their children, Dexter, Yolanda and Martin Luther King III.
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Memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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A montage of personal remembrances from those who knew the civil rights leader best, including his late wife, Coretta Scott King, and their children, Dexter, Yolanda and Martin Luther King III.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Today the nation honors the birthday of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born on January 15th, 1929. Shortly after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, Michigan Congressman John Conyers introduced the bill to make King's birthday a national holiday.

And the day finally became one almost two decades later in 1986. Throughout our program today we will commemorate Dr. King's legacy with interviews, music and commentary. But first, memories from those who knew him best. We begin with Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King, who died nearly a year ago on January 30, 2006.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CORETTA SCOTT KING (Wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.): I married Martin Luther King Jr. because I came to love him after I met him, but I also married the cause that we both shared in and the commitment, and so that may be possible when he was no longer here for me to continue because I understood what Martin Luther King stood for. And I felt that Martin, himself, was a noble example of what human beings could achieve.

And I was hoping that we could raise up younger generations of people who would follow in Martin King Jr.'s methods - principles on non-violence and methods to bring about social change and to create the beloved community that he envisioned.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Here's Martin Luther King III in continuing his father's work.

Mr. MARTIN LUTHER KING III (Son Dr. Martin Luther King): I'm not trying to be Martin the King Jr. No one can do that. I would fail miserably every day if I set out and try to be Martin Luther King Jr. I have to be the best Martin III that I can be. And that's what my objective is to take this legacy, then we would have a better nation, a more humane, a more just nation. And freedom, justice and equality for all humankind would become real.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Yolanda King on preserving her father's legacy.

Ms. YOLANDA KING (Daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King): I'm going to borrow a line from Oprah. I know that no matter what is said about Martin the King Jr., what he contributed, what he gave, what he meant, what he means all over this planet cannot be tarnished. That I know for sure.

And so that gives me a great deal of peace. And because I am an adult now myself and I know that we are - none of us are perfect, it also helps me to deal with some of the judgmental folks that are out there and helps me to make peace with all of that.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: And Dr. King's son, Dexter, on childhood memories.

Mr. DEXTER KING (Son of Martin Luther King Jr.): I remember him more as a playmate than really as a dad. He would come home from a long journey and he would really let his hair down. I think because he had to be so serious in public, he took the time with his family to really let his hair down. And he really sought refuge in his family. So we really had a lot of fun, even though he didn't have quantity time, it was quality family time.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Here's the late actor and activist Ossie Davis on Dr. King's crusade for peace.

Mr. OSSIE DAVIS (Actor): All the memories I have of Martin Luther King, they're special as I remembered him. You know, I was in many - on many occasions in his presence and involved in activities where he was either the feature or the key speaker or the prime mover.

And it's a painful thing for me to say at this day that I think we've broken his heart. How can we, having come from the presence of this man of peace who told us the dangers of war, and yet at this moment we go into the world presuming to spread democracy at the point of a gun. If he were here, he would be crying for shame at what we do.

CHIDEYA: Ambassador Andrew Young on the famous mountaintop speech Dr. King gave at Mason Temple Church in Memphis, Tennessee, the night before he was killed.

Ambassador ANDREW YOUNG (Former United Nations Ambassador): Bernard Lee(ph) and I got on a phone and called him and said, look Martin, you really need to show up. There are so many people here that will be disappointed. It was a rainy night, he had a cold; and so he said, well, give me five minutes and pick me up.

And he was saying even as he came over that, Ralph, you make the speech, I'll just say a few words. But obviously after he got there and the crowd started responding to Ralph's speech, which was really one of his better speeches - it was given as an introduction to Martin, but it was a major speech on his part.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: The late Reverend William Sloane Coffin, a white social activist who rode with freedom writers in the South and participated with Dr. King and others in the march on Washington in 1963.

Reverend WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN (Activist): I remember when he preached at Yale, African-Americans students said in my house, that man makes me proud to be an African-American. And a white student said, that man makes me proud to be a human being.

And the way King could talk to white and black in the way nobody else could was really very moving. I used to think of him when Bobby Kennedy ran for the presidency because Kennedy also could touch hearts white and non-white.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte on the friendship he shared with Dr. King.

Mr. HARRY BELAFONTE (Singer; Actor): Well, Dr. King stayed in my home for many years. It became a place of choice when he came to New York and was not dealing with large agendas. He was very concerned that, as hard and as long as we fought for civil rights and for integration, you'd come to feel somewhat annoyingly so that we were merely integrated into what he called a burning house.

And I didn't really understand how pathetic that remark was until, you know, this part of the 20th century when you see the kind of moral decay and the kind of ethical descendancy and the kind of ways in which this government has governed the peoples of this nation for the last eight years. I think it's a clear example of what Dr. King meant when he said it's degrading into a burning house.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Again, on this Martin Luther King Day you've been hearing from some of the people who loved and walked with King in his lifetime.

Over the weekend we heard about the death of another person close to King - his personal secretary, Dora McDonald, died at 81 from cancer. Mrs. McDonald broke the news to Coretta Scott King that her husband had been assassinated. Although Mrs. McDonald eventually wrote an autobiography, she refused to reveal many details about what she called her 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job working for Mr. King.

She also worked as an assistant to the president of Morehouse College and to Georgia Representative Andrew Young. She died leaving no known survivors.

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