Yolanda Denise King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eldest child who pursued her father’s dream of racial harmony through acting and motivational speaking as a civil rights activists. She was 51 at the time of death.
Born on Nov. 17, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., King was just an infant when her home was bombed during the turbulent civil rights era.
As an actress, she appeared in numerous films, including “Ghosts of Mississippi,” and even played Rosa Parks in the 1978 miniseries “King.”
One of her father’s close aides in the civil rights movement, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, said Wednesday he was stunned and saddened by the news of King’s death.
“Yolanda was lovely. She wore the mantle of princess, and she wore it with dignity and charm,” Lowery said. “She was a warm and gentle person and was thoroughly committed to the movement and found her own means of expressing that commitment through drama.”
King – an actor, speaker and producer – was the founder and head of Higher Ground Productions, billed as a “gateway for inner peace, unity and global transformation.” On her company’s Web site, King described her mission as encouraging personal growth and positive social change.
King also was an author and held memberships in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – which her father co-founded in 1957 – and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Her death comes more than a year after the death of her mother, Coretta Scott King.
She was the most visible and outspoken among the Kings’ four children during this year’s Martin Luther King Day in January, the first since her mother’s death. At her father’s former Atlanta church, Ebenezer Baptist, she performed a series of solo skits that told stories including a girl’s first ride on a desegregated bus and a college student’s recollection of the 1963 desegregation of Birmingham, Ala.
She also urged the audience to be a force for peace and love, and to use the King holiday each year to ask tough questions about their own beliefs on prejudice.
“We must keep reaching across the table and, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, feed each other,” King said.
When asked then by The Associated Press how she was dealing with the loss of her mother, King responded: “I connected with her spirit so strongly. I am in direct contact with her spirit, and that has given me so much peace and so much strength.”