Bernice King: Racial justice activism must focus on strategy

In a tweet, King shared photos of her father, Martin Luther King Jr., playing with her and her older sister Yolanda with the hashtag #girldad.

ATLANTA — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter said she’s afraid American society is unraveling, telling a Christian radio network on Thursday that “I don’t know what’s going to happen ultimately to democracy.”

But Dr. Bernice King also said she is determined to be part of the solution, working to transform minds and help unite a divided nation.

In this Feb. 5, 1965, file photo, C.T. Vivian, left, leads a prayer on the courthouse steps in Selma, Alabama, after Sheriff James Clark, background with helmet, stopped him at the door with a court order. Vivian led hundreds of demonstrators carrying petitions asking for longer voter registration hours. (AP Photo/Horace Cort, File)
In this Feb. 5, 1965, file photo, C.T. Vivian, left, leads a prayer on the courthouse steps in Selma, Alabama, after Sheriff James Clark, background with helmet, stopped him at the door with a court order. Vivian led hundreds of demonstrators carrying petitions asking for longer voter registration hours. (AP Photo/Horace Cort, File)

Credit: Horace Cort

Credit: Horace Cort

“There are a number of bridge builders out there, I’m one of them, and we are determined to ensure that we do not lose our humanity,” King said.

Explore60 years after famous arrest, Jackson, Mississippi honors C.T. Vivian

Bernice King joined Andrew Young, a former U.N. ambassador, congressman and Atlanta mayor, and several other panelists in a webinar hosted by the Alliance for Christian Media about the legacy of Dr. C.T. Vivian, a civil rights strategist and mentor to many more prominent figures of the movement. Vivian died last July at the age of 95, hours before the death of Rep. John Lewis, at 80.

Bernice King’s father had called Vivian “the greatest preacher who ever lived,” a fierce and influential advocate for social justice. Panelists also described Vivian’s optimism and humility, and his desire to see the best in other people, even if it was a racist Alabama sheriff who prevented Black people from registering to vote.

In this Jan. 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activist C.T. Vivian poses in his home in Atlanta. Vivian, who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and served as head of the organization co-founded by the civil rights icon, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
In this Jan. 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activist C.T. Vivian poses in his home in Atlanta. Vivian, who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and served as head of the organization co-founded by the civil rights icon, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

But when asked what advice Vivian would have given to Black Lives Matter protesters today, Bernice King was blunt: “Respect the power of strategy.”

ExploreC.T. Vivian, civil rights hero and intellectual, dead at 95

“We aren’t stopping to strategize, organize, mobilize and put together a strategy,” she said. King and Vivian knew that “the power of nonviolence is the most potent weapon that any people who are oppressed can use,” but they also realized that people had to see success to believe in it.

“Daddy understood that people were really tired and incensed at what was happening, but we weren’t getting any victories,” she said. “He brought to this movement a strategy of nonviolence that brought people to victories,” first with the boycott that ended segregation on city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, and then in other carefully planned acts of civil disobedience across the South.

“What we need now is some victories,” she said, pointing to the conviction of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. “It was a small piece. We need more victories.”

“I've never had such anxiety about Congress, or the presidency or the Supreme Court. Even during the movement, we thought we could trust John Kennedy. We knew Lyndon Johnson was a Southerner who understood race. There was always a very realistic approach to social change, and we were always optimistic."

- Andrew Young, a former U.N. ambassador, congressman and Atlanta mayor

Young, 89, also shared his fears, saying “I’m probably more concerned right now than I’ve ever been before in all my life.”

“I’ve never had such anxiety about Congress, or the presidency or the Supreme Court. Even during the movement, we thought we could trust John Kennedy. We knew Lyndon Johnson was a Southerner who understood race,” Young said. “There was always a very realistic approach to social change, and we were always optimistic.”

Now, Young said, he prays that America’s democracy will overcome its challenges.

“I think we are all deeply concerned; I’m very troubled myself, but not without hope,” Bernice King interjected. “It’s part of the process of change and transformation, that friction is always going to happen. But there’s always a critical mass that eventually emerges.”

“There is a God in this universe — this is what pulled the movement together — and it’s the same God that C.T. Vivian, John Lewis and all the rest believed in,” she said. “They believed that if we persist, if we’re hopeful, if we do the necessary work,” we’ll succeed.

King also referred to her late mother in an effort to lighten the conversation, saying “Coretta Scott King told me the darkest hour is just before the dawn. The only thing I wish I’d asked her is, just how dark is it going to have to get?”

Other speakers included C.T. Vivian’s son, Al, and Steve Fiffer, who wrote Vivian’s posthumously published memoir, “It’s in the Action.” CNN anchor Don Lemon moderated the panel.

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