Bernice King: Dream Defender

MLK's youngest daughter talks to The Root about her father's legacy and the future of activism.

Bernice King (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
Bernice King (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

BK: I don’t know if we realize how distracted we get. One thing happens and then another thing happens, and if we were focused and intent, we would realize that some of what happens is the same thing over again. Maybe the characters change and the individuals change, but it has similar issues and similar tones. Some kind of way we must sit down and get focused. We need a moment like Montgomery, a moment around which people can become galvanized. And that keeps them connected until we have a real victory. That victory can then inspire people to more deeply address the systemic problems in our society. And history teaches us that. The movements in the 1960s, like the student riots and Freedom Rides, all happened because young people were encouraged and inspired by Montgomery to do something.

Like I said before, the dream is waiting on the people.

TR: You must be inspired by the fact that your father’s dream has proliferated. Many people have a dream now: the women’s rights movement, LGBT civil rights, the Occupy movement focused on income inequality and the Dreamers pushing for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. These are outgrowths of the civil rights movement, which your father inspired. Do you feel the diversity of the new era of civil rights undermines the broader goals?

BK: I believe that diversity is positive and inevitable. My only concern is that sometimes your efforts can become diluted because each group has a different agenda. We must find a way to transcend that. We all must find a common thread. This reminds me of a scripture in Nehemiah which says, “The work is extensive and we are widely separated on the wall. But when you hear the sound of the trumpet, come to that spot.” What that means to me is that in order for us to resist the enemy of progress, we must come together. That’s what my father did — he brought people together.

TR: When President Obama addressed the tragic verdict in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin he ended on an optimistic note by highlighting the fact that his children and their friends were increasingly colorblind, and far better off than his generation or those before it. Is this not the fulfillment, in part, of your father’s dream? And doesn’t progress take generations to correct the ills of the past? If so, does that mean that even 100 years from now, we will still need a movement?

BK: Yes. But let me first say that my father was not looking for a colorblind society. He didn’t want us to ignore our differences and distinctions. What he wanted was for us to not use those differences and distinctions to oppress or exploit people. He wanted us to respect those differences.

To your second point, yes, we will always need a movement.

My mother always said, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation.” You may not have to revisit the same things, but every generation has to make its contribution to the struggle for freedom. And that struggle matures us, and every generation needs to be matured. That maturity allows us to see our oneness. I see the struggle continuing until we achieve the beloved community — where we truly see ourselves as one. A community in which everyone has dignity and is allowed to prosper in their lives.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington, Arise America and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.