Nearly 54 years since civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his words still resound across our nation and his legacy has influenced millions.
If alive today, how would King encourage us to tackle the renewed racial tensions America faces? And what would he have to say about divisive ideologies such as critical race theory?
As an ordained Baptist pastor and firm believer in Jesus Christ, King would oppose critical race theory because it “was socially engineered by Marxists and socialists, by people who don’t believe in God,” says Alveda King, one of his nieces.
Her uncle’s message to the nation would remain centered on the Gospel of Christ because his desire was to see America “serve God [and] serve others,” Alveda King says.
King, a pro-life leader who is founder of Speak for Life, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to reflect on her uncle’s legacy and address some of the greatest issues facing America today.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is my distinct privilege today to welcome to our show Dr. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King. Alveda King is an author, a proud pro-life leader, and the founder of Speak for Life. Dr. Alveda King, welcome to the show.
Alveda King: Thank you, Virginia. Hello, everyone.
Allen: It has been [almost 54 years] since your uncle’s death. How do you think America is doing in our effort to accomplish the vision that Dr. King set forth for all of us in his “I Have a Dream” speech?
King: I believe that if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were here right now, he would encourage us to continue to learn to live together as brothers–and I’ll add in sisters–or perish together as fools.
Now … my daddy was his brother, or is his brother. They live in heaven. I like to see it that way. And Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King, he was a preacher [and] civil rights leader along with his brother, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Now, what many people do not understand is that, first, Martin Luther King Jr. loved God. He wasn’t perfect, and no human beings are. He loved God.
So I believe if he were here today, he would say to us, in the face of everything that we are encountering—whether it be COVID, or race wars, or horrible things happening to the weather, calamities, and disaster—I believe he would ask us to look forward in this new year with faith, with hope, with love.
He would say, “Fear not.” And this is what I know of him, the man, when he was alive here on the earth and I was born and growing up. I was a young woman when he passed away. And at that time, I married the next year.
So I saw my uncle, along with my dad, my granddad, many of us–I was a youth organizer at the time–face all of the evils with the light of truth and the love of God. … People always say, “What would he do  years later?” He would encourage us to love the Lord.
Allen: Growing up, were there any stories that, as your family gathers together now, that you often tell about your uncle? What are some of those family stories that have been passed down?
King: One of my favorite stories belongs to my mother, Mrs. Naomi Ruth Barber King. And she’s a civil rights leader in her own right. She’s still living. She’s 90 years old.
However, in the 1950s, evangelist Billy Graham was preaching all over the world and we had much segregation in America. So that segregation caused church services to be such that only one ethnic group would attend this church service, and across town one ethnic group would attend that church service. And all of that was going on.
Evangelist Graham said: “I’m not going to have any of those racist church services anymore. I’m going to invite this young man to minister with me, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” So here the evangelist and the preacher come together, [in] Times Square, New York, around 1958 or so, and they actually ministered together.
Now, as I tell that, you may say, “Well, then what happened?” Just a few years later [my uncle] said in the Letter From Birmingham Jail , “The most segregated hour in America is on Sunday at 11 o’clock.” Well, racism didn’t break, but that standard was raised by those two men.
During that time, my uncle was also stabbed in the chest by a woman with a letter opener, an African American woman, because she didn’t understand, didn’t agree with his message. She was demented. And it is recorded, written, that my uncle looked at her with compassion in his eyes … while the weapon was in his chest, and he says, “What’s wrong?”
They get my uncle to the hospital. The surgeon says if he had sneezed, he would have died. They removed it. And so children wrote him, little schoolchildren: “I’m so glad you didn’t sneeze.”
Now, here’s the story. My mother was talking to him on the phone, because we were a very close family and Daddy and Uncle M.L. being brothers and all of that.
“M.L., are you OK?”
“Well, if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t be here.”
“Well, I’m so glad you didn’t sneeze.”
Then he says, “Hey, Naomi”—as a matter of fact, they called her Nini—”would you send me one of those sweet potato pies you make when Cori”—he called Aunt Coretta “Cori”—”when she comes up to see me?”
Mother cooked that pie, got it on the airplane. He calls back a few hours later. The pie is still warm and he’s enjoying the pie. Now, that’s a real family story. Yeah.
Allen: I love that. The power of pie. Wow. What a beautiful story and powerful. Thank you so much for sharing that. So for you, as a young woman watching your uncle, what was going through your head in your teens and early 20s as you’re seeing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. really lead the country forward? Are you at that time thinking, “Wow, I want to be a part of this. I want to do what he’s doing?”
King: I was actually a part of it. Our home in 1963 was bombed. That’s the home of A.D. and Naomi King. It was a church parsonage.
Uncle M.L., Martin Luther King Jr., was supposed to spend the night in our guest room, but it was almost like God spoke to him and said, “Get up out of Birmingham.” So that same night, my uncle left the city.
All the places he would’ve stayed were bombed. The home of an attorney, the home of his brother, and [a room] of the A.G. Gaston Motel.
My daddy took me to marches with my brothers, the youth march, the children’s march, etc. When our home was bombed, the night before Mother’s Day, we were in the home.
So I became a youth organizer. Not only did I have a chance to observe my very famous uncle, supported by many–my daddy and many–I became a part of that movement as well.
But I always would just peep and look around and try to understand what was going on. Was it real? Was what he was preaching real? Because I was able to go to church and hear his sermons as well, and I would say, “He’s preaching about love, but these people are trying to kill him.”
And so, as I observed and watched, saw him live that life; his father Daddy King talked about the lea…