Childhood & Early Life
Martin Luther King III was born on October 23, 1957, in Montgomery, Alabama, as the second child and first son of civil rights advocates Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. His father was delivering a speech to the members of Southern Christian Leadership Conference when he was born and went on to announce the birth of his first son and his name to the people there.
Initially, his mother had reservations about naming him after his celebrated father, but Martin Luther King Jr. always wanted his son to be named after him and his own father.
After his birth, his mother did not have much time to focus on her artistry as she then had two children to take care of. He had an older sister, Yolanda Denise King (November 17, 1955-May 15, 2007) and would later have two younger siblings: brother Dexter Scott King (born January 30, 1961) and sister Bernice Albertine King (born March 28, 1963).
The first time King encountered racism was when he was eight years old, studying in the third grade. One of his Caucasian classmates was subjecting him to racial comments and insults. He found out that the boy in question liked to draw. One day, he went up to him and complimented him on his drawing. The harassment stopped after that.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, when King III was only ten years old. He was planning to lead a campaign in Washington, D.C., called the Poor People’s Campaign, at the time of his assassination. His death was followed by riots all over the US.
Prior to Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte had created a trust fund for King Jr.’s children. It helped Coretta in raising King and his three siblings.
Martin Luther King III studied at The Galloway School in Atlanta, Georgia before enrolling at the private, all-male, liberal arts, historically black Morehouse College, the alma mater of both his father and grandfather.
Like his father before him, Martin Luther King III is part of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. In 1979, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He lived out of his mother’s home until adulthood.
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Adult Life & Activism
On June 26, 1985, Martin Luther King III, his mother, and younger sister Bernice were apprehended by the police for participating in an anti-apartheid protest in front of the Embassy of South Africa in Washington, D.C.
The police arrested him, Yolanda, and Bernice, on January 7, 1986, charging them for “disorderly conduct” at a Winn Dixie supermarket, which had witnessed multiple protests since the previous year.
King became the first member of his family to venture into politics when he decided to run for the Fulton County Commission and told the reporters of his candidacy on June 9, 1986.
He subsequently won the election and was a county commission member in Fulton County, Georgia for a full term, from 1987 to 1993. However, he was handed a thorough defeat in the following election after it was revealed that he needed to pay the government over $200,000 in back taxes and fines.
Martin Luther King III has displayed a strong opposition to death penalty. He courted controversy after he stated that “something must be wrong” with homosexuals while addressing middle school students. He subsequently had conversations with some gay-rights leaders who dubbed his remarks as "uninformed and insensitive" and later issued an apology.
In 1993, he co-founded the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., an organization that manages the license of Martin Luther King Jr.'s image and intellectual property.
King, along with his wife, visited India in February 2009. This trip took place nearly fifty years after his parents had made the journey.
While he was in the country, he helmed a delegation that also had the likes of John Lewis and Andrew Young in the ranks. He went to museums on Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi and spoke to students. During his lecture at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, he condemned the Iraq War and the 2008 Mumbai Attacks.
King has been associated with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a non-profit organisation his father founded, for a long while. He assumed the position as the head of the organisation in 1997.
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As its fourth president, King led the group towards more involvement in social, political, and economic issues. They organised hearings on police brutality and arranged a demonstration on the 37th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. They also compelled the legislators of Georgia to change its state flag, which used to have a large Confederate Cross on it.
He received considerable criticism for what his colleagues in the group considered inaction as the president. His silence on the issues of AIDS, disenfranchisement of black voters in the Florida election recount, and the limited time frame implicated on welfare recipients made the SCLC board question his ability and sincerity to do the job.
Furthermore, he brought in Lamell J. McMorris as an executive director, a step that wasn’t liked by the board. All these factors culminated in King’s suspension from the presidency in June 2001. However, he was brought back only a week later.
Reinstated as the president, he promised to be more active as the head of SCLC and wrote down a four-year plan for the group. He told the board that he would let McMorris go and expressed his desire to focus more on racial profiling, prisoners' rights and closing the digital divide between the whites and the blacks.
Martin Luther King III set up Realizing the Dream, Inc. in 2006, to carry on the legacy of his father. The group merged with The King Center while King was serving as the president of SCLC. He supported Barack Obama during the 2008 US presidential election.
In July 2008, a private contention between King and his siblings became public, threatening his father’s personal legacy. King and his sister Bernice sued their brother Dexter for inappropriately taking money from the estate of their late mother and then depositing it to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., of which Dexter was the president at the time.
The lawsuit went on to state that Dexter never informed either King or Bernice about the transactions or the company’s financial affairs. Dexter responded by countersuing his siblings on August 18, 2008.
Dexter’s counter lawsuit stated that King and Bernice had neglected their duties to the King’s Center and their father’s estate, misused the assets that were the properties of the estate, and withheld funds that belonged to the centre and estate. Eventually, they settled out of the court.
The siblings put out a joint statement on April 6, 2010, informing both the media and public of the re-election of King as President and CEO of The King Center. King’s second tenure in the position witnessed multiple changes in the group. He helmed the innovative ‘King Center Imaging Project’ in partnership with JPMorgan Chase, which uploaded about 200,000 historical documents for free public access.
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He collaborated with Syracuse University for The King Center Audio and Visual Digitization Project, which will work towards the preservation and digitization of about 3,500 hours of audio and video footage of Martin Luther King Jr.
Following the shooting of Michael Brown, King accompanied Brown’s parents to a rally on August 17, 2014. However, he was critical of the riots that ensued afterwards. He was also present at Brown’s funeral on 25 August. In the recent months, King has been critical of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
As an amateur actor, King III has been involved in two projects. In the 1978 miniseries ‘King’, based on his father’s life, King III portrayed a character named Rev. Briggs. He lent his voice to the 2010 historical film ‘Change in the Wind’.
Martin Luther King III and the nephews and nieces of Rosa Parks presented the ceremonial coin at Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006. The ceremonies also comprised of a dedication and observation of a moment of silence to honour the memories of Parks and Scott-King. Afterwards, the coin was thrown in the air by New England Patriot’s Tom Brady to mark the end of the pre-game ceremonies.
On March 29, 2008, at the Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game, King was given the chance to throw the first pitch.
For his outstanding contributions to the promotion of human rights, King won the Ramakrishna Bajaj Memorial Global Award at the 26th Anniversary Global Awards of the Priyadarshni Academy, located in Mumbai, India, on September 19, 2010.
He was the recipient of the Humanitarian Award at the Montreal Black Film Festival on September 29, 2015.
Martin Luther King III had been in a relationship with his girlfriend Andrea Waters for a long time before they married in May 2006. Their daughter, Yolanda Renee King, was born on May 25, 2008. She is Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s first and only grandchild.
The people who know King, his friends and family, have often described him as a shy man who hardly ever socializes. He overworks, apparently to live up to his father’s legacy. Rev. E. Randel T. Osburn, who has been a long-time friend of King’s, stated that “It's like there's a ghost in front of him and he's always trying to catch it."
Named after her aunt, King’s older sister, who had passed away at age 51 due to a heart attack, King’s daughter Yolanda Reene has already become a familiar figure in student activism. She attended the 50th anniversary of the March to Washington with her family and met President Barack Obama and other world leaders. On March 24, 2018, at the age of nine, Yolanda Reene delivered a speech at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C.