Christine King Farris was always the delicate one among the children of Martin Luther “Daddy” King Sr.

She spent the first two weeks of her life crying, according to a painful account in her father‘s autobiography.

Born in the upstairs bedroom of what is now known as the King Birth Home, on Auburn Avenue, her doctors were baffled and her parents had no answers to why their first-born was suffering so much.

They watched through tears as her tiny body trembled violently.


She just stopped crying.

“When I didn’t hear her anymore I rushed into the house and found her wide-eyed and at ease in her body. I just stared. Like that, it was over, just stopped,” King Sr. wrote in “Daddy King: An Autobiography.”

“Now, sometimes when I recall those frightening first days of Christine’s life, I feel that the illness, as severe as it was, may have strengthened her for the inordinately heavy responsibilities which would become a daily part of her adult years.”

Willie Christine King Farris, the last sibling of Martin Luther King Jr. and a retired professor at Spelman College, has died. Her family announced her passing on Thursday. She was 95.

“Our family mourns the passing of my aunt, Willie Christine King Farris,” said Martin Luther King III. “As the eldest sibling of my father, Martin Luther King Jr., Aunt Christine embodied what it meant to be a public servant. Like my dad, she spent her life fighting for equality and against racism in America.”

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, said in a tweet that her aunt would always be cherished.

“An extraordinary educator. My father’s sister. One of the co-laborers with my mother in founding The King Center,” Bernice King said in her tweet. “Phenomenal Woman. Inspiring Human. She survived and thrived.”

The Delicate One

She was the delicate one.

But she might have also been the strongest.

That strength and sense of responsibility Daddy King wrote about carried the Atlanta native for close to a century as a front-line witness to some of the civil rights movements’ most glorious and most painful acts.

In 1968, she was in a bathroom at the Atlanta airport about to board a plane to Memphis with her sister-in-law Coretta Scott King when Mayor Ivan Allen came and told them, “that Dr. King has died.”

July 1974: Martin Luther King Sr. talks with his daughter, Christine, and her husband, Isaac Farris.

Credit: Dwight Ross Jr. / AJC

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Credit: Dwight Ross Jr. / AJC

A year later, it was her younger brother Alfred Daniel (A.D.) who drowned mysteriously in his own swimming pool.

Finally, in 1974, in the very Ebenezer Baptist Church that her family had built, her mother — whom she had leaned on so much through the tragic deaths of her brothers — was gunned down as she played the organ at the beginning of Sunday services by a young Black man who told authorities he was on a “mission” and hated Christianity.

“So many things have happened,” Farris said in a 2007 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution marking her 80th birthday. “You don’t question anything, but I wonder why am I the one that is left. God must have me here for something.”

Willie Christine King was born Sept. 11, 1927, to Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Christine Williams King into one of Atlanta’s leading Black families.

Her grandfather, Adam Daniel Williams, was the pastor of Ebenezer and the first president of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter.

Her father later assumed control of the church and emerged as one of Atlanta’s most powerful Black figures, fighting for equal pay for Black teachers. Her mother was a choir organist, and her two brothers would at times co-pastor Ebenezer with their father.

As a daughter of a prominent Atlanta family, Farris, enrolled at Spelman College and graduated in 1948, the same year her brother, who she referred to as “ML,” graduated from Morehouse College.

She would earn a master’s degree from Columbia University and go on to teach at Spelman 48 years, retiring in 2014 as a tenured professor and director of the learning resources center.

She so revered and respected the college that even as a professor she never walked on the grass, a lesson she learned as an undergraduate.

In 2008, Christine King Farris participated in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Voices of King" podcast, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. As part of that project, she sat for this portrait at her office at Spelman College. (Pouya Dianat / AJC 2008 photo)

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

On being humble

Despite Farris’ family lines, celebrity, and stature as a college professor, she was never one to seek a public profile. This is how she wanted it, despite the fact that she wore the same square face as her more famous brother and shared his measured Baptist drawl of a preacher.

As a rising matriarch of one of the most significant Black families in American history, she chose to spend her life in the background, supporting first her parents, then her two brothers and finally her sister-in-law, Coretta Scott King, as they shined.

“My father and parents taught us to be humble,” she said in 2007. “That was part of the family way. I never felt the need to push out.”

But she was always there, even after all of them had gone, bearing the weight of the family name.

Bearing Witness

All families have their share of tragedies. But few figures have worn a public burden as heavily as Farris — even when she was doing it in the shadows.

In 1958, it was Farris who traveled to New York City with Coretta after her husband had been stabbed in a failed assassination attempt.

A decade later, it was Farris who flew to Memphis to claim her brother’s body.

In 1969, she and her father were the first on the scene after A.D. drowned.

January 2007: Christine King Farris and her son, Isaac Farris Jr., during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

Still, five years later, in what she called “the worst day of my life,” she was sitting in Ebenezer watching and listening to her mother play “The Lord’s Prayer,” on the organ when a deranged man walked in and shot her to death.

She was the first person that King Jr.’s son, Dexter, called when his sister Yolanda died in 2007 of a heart attack.

Daddy King died in 1984 at the age of 84. Coretta Scott King died in 2006 of cancer.

Telling her story

Navigating her own story, Farris wrote several books, including “My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” and her memoirs, which despite all of the family tragedy is filled with hope and success as she quietly built her own career while raising her family.

There were some low-key public appearances. She was the vice-chair and treasurer of the King Center, the Atlanta-based center devoted to the teaching of King’s nonviolent philosophy, which she helped build with Coretta in 1969. For several years, wearing one of her big hats, she presided over the King Day service at Ebenezer Baptist Church to mark his birthday and national holiday.

She was also active for several years in the International Reading Association, as well as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Beside her for those years was Isaac Farris Sr., a dashing entrepreneur she met at a wedding reception in the late 1950s. Issac Farris was the deejay, and a young Christine King arrived at the reception with a date — a young preacher in the mode of her brothers and father.

Isaac Farris said in 2007 that, as preachers are wont to do, Christine’s date headed straight to the kitchen to get a plate of food. Isaac headed straight to Christine.

“Christine was very striking, and she had a different presence that attracted me,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2007. “It was difficult for me to take my eyes off her.”

Christine and her date took Farris home that night, since he didn’t have a car. But it wouldn’t be the last time they saw each other.

They married Aug. 19, 1960, with King Jr. and A.D. King performing the ceremony.

Issac Newton Farris Sr. died in 2017, at the age of 83.

The couple had two children, Isaac Jr., and Angela. Farris’ only grandchild Farris Christine Watkins was “Pudding Pie” to her.

“My father always taught us to keep the faith and keep looking up,” Farris said in 2007.

“Through all of the tragedy, I knew that God was in charge. There must be some purpose.”

AJC Podcast: Interview with Christine King Farris from 2008

February 2006: Christine King Ferris watches as the casket arrives at the State Capitol during funeral services for Coretta Scott King.

Credit: Rich Addicks / AJC

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Credit: Rich Addicks / AJC

Sylvia Cook (left) greets Dr. Christine King Farris as she arrives at Ebenezer Baptist Church for her 80th birthday celebration Sunday.

Credit: Jenni Girtman / AJC

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Credit: Jenni Girtman / AJC

Christine King Farris, eldest sibling of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is seen at a wreath laying ceremony at the King Center on the 54th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., on Monday, April 4, 2022, in Atlanta. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Elijah Nouvelage

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Credit: Elijah Nouvelage

First Lady Rosalynn Carter, President Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King, Christine King Farris, sister of Dr. Martin Luther King, and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young all sing during a reception held at the White House on Oct. 4, 1978, to honor Friends of Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change. (AP file)

Credit: AP file

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Credit: AP file