Bernice King was only five years old when her father, civil-rights leader the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Today she is a 33-year-old woman who has amazed herself by following in her father's footsteps and becoming a minister. An associate minister at the Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Reverend Bernice King heads a singles ministry.
Here King speaks about the persisting racism within society and the challenge to make her father's dream a reality even in the church—topics she addressed in her recently published first book, Hard Questions, Heart Answers (Broadway). In her candid responses, you can hear echoes of her father's cadences, but the voice and the vision—inspiring and challenging—are clearly her own.
King also talks openly about her suicidal state (about a year before she accepted her call to the ministry) and her family's desire to see James Earl Ray, the man accused of killing her father, finally get a trial.
How do you view race relations in the United States more than a quarter-century after your father's death?
I think we have become stagnant. Nobody really wants to deal with the depth of the issue, nobody wants to deal with the historic pain and confusion that's associated with it.
I believe ultimately racism is a spiritual issue, and I think my father understood that. But he also understood that to create some kind of racial harmony we had to first deal with the legal barriers, the things that kept the races apart. Now that the races are together, we have to begin to do some self-examination, some identification, some calling out, some forgiving, some apologizing, some embracing, some crying—all of that, if we're going to deal with it realistically. ...