King family to lay wreath in Atlanta marking 56 years since MLK’s death

Malik Shaeer, 12, left, and Deja Reynolds, 12, from Minneapolis, visit the crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in Atlanta. (John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Malik Shaeer, 12, left, and Deja Reynolds, 12, from Minneapolis, visit the crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in Atlanta. (John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

On the 56th anniversary of the death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., members of the King family will gather to mark the solemn occasion for the first time since the passing of Dexter Scott King, Christine King Farris and Naomi King.

April 2005: Christine King Farris joined Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther King III for a wreath-laying ceremony on what was then the 37th anniversary of King's assassination. (W.A. Harewood / AP)

Credit: W.A. Harewood / AP

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Credit: W.A. Harewood / AP

Christine King Farris, who had been King’s last living sibling, died June 29, 2023 at the age of 95.

The Kings’ youngest son, Dexter Scott King died Jan. 22 of prostate cancer, just eight days shy of his 63rd birthday.

Artist Dakoro Edwards created a live painting depicting Dexter Scott King at Sandy Springs City Hall on February 1, 2024 to kick off the city's Black History Month programming. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Naomi King, the wife of King’s younger brother A.D., died in March at age 92.

Angela Farris Watkins, the daughter of Christine King Farris, said the family has had to remain strong during what has been an unprecedented year of mourning. She said that her grandfather, the legendary Martin Luther “Daddy” King Sr., often told his family — in the wake of tragedy — to “Thank God for what you have left.”

“And he would say that to himself every time he lost another loved one,” Watkins said. “By that, he meant that we still have loved ones remaining who can provide support and love you. People that you can embrace. So all is not lost.”

King, who won a Nobel Peace Prize and led the March on Washington, was gunned down on April 4, 1968. He was in Memphis advocating for sanitation workers.

In this April 3, 1968 file photo, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy. King is one of America's most famous victims of gun violence. Just as guns were a complicated issue for King in his lifetime, they loom large over the 30th anniversary of the holiday honoring his birthday. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly, File)

Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

April 4 has been a symbolically significant day ever since.

At 11:15 a.m. Thursday, the King family, led by Rev. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, will continue their solemn annual tradition of placing a wreath at the crypt where Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King are interred. Coretta Scott King died in 2006.

Watkins said the King family uses the ceremony to begin introducing new faces and generations of the family.

Bernice King, center, speaks during a press conference on the passing of her brother, Dexter Scott King. She is flanked by her cousins, Angela Farris Watkins and Alveda King. 
They are each the granddaughters of Alberta and Martin Luther "Daddy" King and represent a third generation of King family members. (Jason Getz/jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

“We are preparing the next generation,” Watkins said. “Making sure they understand the importance of these commemorations and ceremonies and take an active part in them. And all of us, despite our losses, are still determined to keep things moving to uphold our family legacy of love, nonviolence and social justice. We are clear on that.”

The King Family Wreath Laying Ceremony and Community Service Project at the King Center is one of several observances of King’s assassination that will take place throughout the week.

Other events, spearheaded by The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, include:

Candlelight Observance and Wreath Laying Ceremony

A National Park Service worker installed the wreath on the front of Ebenezer Baptist Church on the 46th anniversary of King's assassination on April 4, 2014.  (Kent Johnson)

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

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Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the National Park will hold a candlelight observance and wreath-laying ceremony at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Sanctuary, 407 Auburn Ave. The wreath will be placed in front of the church, and a bell will toll 56 times in honor of King, who was baptized at the church and preached at Ebenezer before his funeral was held there on April 9, 1968.

Reflection Corner

The Martin Luther King Jr. statue is shown outside of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel on the Morehouse College campus, Monday, March 18, 2024, in Atlanta.  (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Through April 9, visitors of the National Historical Park’s Visitor Center at 450 Auburn Avenue will be allowed to “pause and reflect on the profound impact of Dr. King’s legacy.” The “Reflection Corner,” open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., will give attendees an invitation to express their thoughts and feelings artistically.

Silent Remembrance Walk

In this 1968 Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo by Noel Davis, Coretta Scott King sits with tears in her eyes at the funeral of her slain husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To her left sits Harry Belafonte. Images such as this illustrate how news photography has captured the most dramatic and moving moments in history and changed the way people view the world and current events. This photo, along with more than 100 others, was part of an exhibition of photographic moments in Atlanta history.

Credit: Noel Davis, AJC staff file

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Credit: Noel Davis, AJC staff file

On April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral, visitors will “step back in time and experience the solemnity of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Sanctuary.” Attendees will walk silently through the iconic sanctuary, while listening to audio of King’s final sermons. Those sermons will include King’s own eulogy that was played during his funeral.