Holiday takes on new meaning for Bernice King

The celebrations around her father’s birthday have always held significance for Bernice King.

But particularly this year.

It arrives as protests over the shooting deaths of black men by police continue to spark protests demanding accountability. It also comes on the 50th anniversaries of passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Selma to Montgomery march.

“Protesting is sustained action on behalf of a people who feel as if they have no path to redress their grievances,” said the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 86 this year. “So it was in Selma 50 years ago, and so it is today in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., and other American cities where citizens are grappling with the grim reality that their lives are inconsequential.”

People throughout the nation will hold rallies, worship services, parades and other commemorative events to celebrate King’s birth and the strides made during the Civil Rights Movement.

But King, CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, also wants people to be persistent “in the spirit of my father to ensure that every American, regardless of race or economic station, enjoys one of the most sacred rights in a democracy—the right to vote and live as free citizens should.”

Several students from Riverview Gardens High School in Ferguson were expected to join her at the Annual Salute to Greatness dinner Saturday, one of several King holiday events.

She plans to spend part of Monday, which is the federal holiday, at Ebenezer Baptist Church, at the King Center’s Annual Commemorative Service with her aunt, Christine King Farris. Later that afternoon, she will close out the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March and Rally. “Then, I get to rest for a few days.”

The King Center has remained engaged with Ferguson residents and community leaders since the fall, she said.

Sixty people have completed the first phase of training for “Nonviolence 365” and will continue working with the center. The King Center has also been asked by a gang member to return to Ferguson to provide additional nonviolence training.

“This is the way,” said King, 51. “I don’t know any other way that has been successful in our world to bring about social change other the nonviolence taught by my father.”

She said she has reached out to the families of Michael Brown, the unarmed Ferguson teenager who was killed by police officer Darren Wilson; and Eric Garner, who died after he was placed in a choke hold by police in Staten Island, N.Y. Grand juries decided not to issue indictments in either case.

Coincidentally, the holiday this year comes on the heels of another court proceeding for the King siblings who are battling over King’s Nobel prize and his traveling Bible. Neither Bernice King or her brother Martin Luther King III were in court. Their brother, Dexter King, however, made a rare appearance.The two brothers want to gain custody of the items, and reportedly want to sell them. Bernice King opposes such a move and calls the items sacred.

She declined to comment on the proceedings. A full trial is scheduled for Feb. 16

Meanwhile, in a previous interview, King shared her thoughts on the civil rights drama “Selma.”

“There’re documentaries and then there’s Hollywood,” she said. “This obviously was a Hollywood movie and you don’t expect Hollywood to bring all of the facts to life. What you expect it to do is to bring a story to life.”

She said the film was successful in showing the discipline and strategy used to bring about the Voting Rights Act. She hopes it will inspire people to think about how they can bring about change in society nonviolently and to have a greater understanding of the magnitude of that time period.

Still, some aspects were not factual. For instance, she said her mother was not insecure about her relationship with her father and would never have questioned his love for her amid rumors of infidelity.

And she would have liked to have seen more engagement between her parents, who “were such a loving couple.”

She said director Ava DuVernay did a good job of rewriting some of her father’s speeches. The director did not have permission from the King estate to use King’s speeches so to get around that, she simply rewrote them. Several years ago, Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios acquired the movie rights to his speeches to make a biopic about the life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was assassinated in 1968.

King does not know the status of that project because she’s not involved in the business side.

So, what was it like see a depiction of her parents on the big screen?

At first, it was difficult to watch. She had a private viewing with family. “It’s hard because you have your own perspectives,” she said. “Uh oh, that’s not him. No, that’s not quite her.”

Then there was a wow moment. “Those are my parents up there.”

After watching it a second time, she was able to get her feelings out of the way and watch it for the substance of the story.

Hopefully, she said, there will be more like it.

“There’s so much to tell,” she said. “Not just from that time period but from what led to that time period that has not been told.”