By Devin Watkins
Dr. Bernice Albertine King was only a few months old when her father led the March on Washington on 28 August 1963 and delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Yet, in the nearly six decades since that day, she has taken on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mantle with passion and dedication to the cause for which he gave his life.
Now the CEO of The King Center, she seeks to promote her father’s philosophy of nonviolence in all sectors of American society.
In an interview with Vatican News, Dr. King recalled her father’s legacy and reflected on the influence of Pope Francis on those who push for civil rights protections.
Nonviolent legacy for social change
Dr. King noted that her father and his generation left behind a “legacy of nonviolent strategies and tactics to bring about social change.”
“It’s the only time that I know of in history,” said Dr. King, “where a collective group of people, during a select time period, were able to literally change the laws of the South, to do away with something that was embedded in Southern society for a long time, which is de jure, by law, segregation.”
Dr. King added that her father also passed on a way to address social and political issues and conflict.
Nonviolence, she said, should be studied and promoted more, since it is a very effective means to bring about social change.
Promoting voting rights
On the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights campaigners are again demonstrating in the streets of Washington, DC and other US cities on Saturday for the “March On for Voting Rights”.
The issue has been pushed to the fore in recent years, with many activists expressing concern for what they see as laws that restrict access to voting.
Dr. King weighed in on the topic, and said campaigners need to lobby the Biden Administration and Congress to enact laws to protect voting rights.
“I think that with consistently applied pressure and working behind the scenes that we can get there,” she said.
Human connectedness and overcoming division
Dr. Bernice King also has a special place in her heart for Pope Francis. She has personally met him twice, one encounter of which was a private audience in the Apostolic Palace.
The Pope even sent her a letter earlier this year, as Americans marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dr. King said Pope Francis can be an inspiration for civil rights campaigners with his focus on “human connectedness and how we can transcend our differences and really connect to work for a more peaceful world.”
The Pope, she added, can also help “penetrate our hearts” to overcome the polarization that permeates society.
“We have to connect with one another, work collectively together, and cross difficult lines by having challenging and courageous conversations even with those who may have different perspectives than us,” said Dr. King. “We can’t just dismiss them, discount them, and—as we say in this culture—‘cancel’ them, because they are part of our humanity and the love community that we are trying to create and manifest.”
Pope Francis, she reiterated, can inspire everyone “to tap into the greater part of ourselves that is our humanity and to operate out of that.”