Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal and state holiday held on the third Monday of every January to celebrate the life of the slain activist. King is heralded as the most important and outspoken leader of the Civil Rights movement, and his legacy continues to loom large over topics of race relations and equality.
King had four children with his late wife Coretta Scott King. Each of them have paid tribute to their father’s legacy at one point or another, and continued to campaign for many of the issues that he stood for during his lifetime. Learn more about King’s children and family below.
1. His Daughter Yolanda Denise King Was an Activist & Actress Who Died In 2007
Yolanda Denise King was born on November 17, 1955. She was the oldest child of the King family, and was 12 when her father was assassinated. Shortly after her father’s death, Yolanda reportedly told her mother: “Mom, I’m not going to cry because my dad is not dead. He may be dead physically, and one day I am going to see him again.” She was outspoken in her support for her father, and was granted interviews with popular magazines like Ebony and Jet while she was still in high school.
After graduating from Smith College in 1976, Yolanda split her efforts between being a social activist and a Hollywood actress. The former was a passion inherited from her parents, while the latter was a means of coping with the trauma she experienced as a child. “[It] allowed me to find an expression and outlet for the pain and anger I felt about losing my father,” she told USA Today. Some of her most notable roles include Rosa Parks in 1978’s King; Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shadazz in 1981’s Death of a Prophet; and Medgar Evers’s daughter in 1996’s Ghosts of Mississippi.
Yolanda was also an active supporter for gay rights and an ally to the LGBT community alongside her mother. She died only 16 months after her mother, succumbing to complications related to a chronic heart condition on May 15, 2007. She was 51.
2. His Son Martin Luther King III Is a Human Rights Advocate & Community Activist
Martin Luther King III was born on October 23, 1957. He is the oldest living sibling in the King family, and was 10 when his father was assassinated. In the years that followed, he attended Morehouse College, which his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all attended, and graduated with a B.A. degree in political science in 1979.
After graduating, Martin III continued in his father’s footsteps by becoming a human rights activist. Known for being shy and withdrawn when he isn’t giving speeches or advocating for a particular cause, Martin III has been said to overwork due to the pressure of living up to his father. “Every day people come up to him and say, ‘Oh, your father was this, and, oh, your father was that,’ ” E. Randel T. Osburn told the Los Angeles Times. “If you’re around Martin much, you can tell he never gets used to it.”
“Watching him is like watching somebody trying to outrun themselves,” Osborn added. “It’s like there’s a ghost in front of him and he’s always trying to catch it.” In addition to his activism, Martin III served as an elected county commission member in Fulton County, Georgia from 1987 to 1993, and as the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1997 to 2001. He currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the organization Let America Vote.
3. His Son Dexter Scott King Is an Actor & Documentary Filmmaker
Dexter Scott King was born on January 30, 1961. He was 7 when his father was assassinated, and would go on to enroll at Morehouse College, the same school his father attended. He studied business administration, but did not graduate, and dropped out become an actor and filmmaker.
Dexter portrayed his father in the 2002 television movie The Rosa Parks Story. The film, which also starred Angela Bassett and Cicely Tyson, was well-received by critics and was nominated for several NAACP and Black Reel awards. Dexter also voiced his father in the 1999 animated film Our Friend, Martin. His other acting credits include the 1978 television movie King and 2004 episode of the crime series Missing.
In addition to his career as an actor, Dexter has remained involved in his family’s activism. He currently as the chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, and previously served as the as president of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Since the 1980s, Dexter has also been a dedicated vegan and animal rights activist.
4. His Daughter Bernice King Is a Minister & Human Rights Activist
Bernice Albertine King was born on March 28, 1963. She was 5 when her father was assassinated, and went on to attend Grinnell College in Iowa. She later graduated from Spelman College with a degree in psychology. On May 14, 1990, she became the second woman to be ordained by the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which she said was “the most humbling moment” of her life.
Bernice served as an elder at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church from 2002 to 2011. In 2008, she and Martin Luther King III filed suit over the alleged mismanagement of funds from the King Center against their brother Dexter Scott King. Dexter countersued, creating a rift within the King family, but the lawsuits were settled out of court the following year and all parties have since made up, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Bernice was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 2009. Her elder brother Martin III and her father had previously held the position, and she made history as the first woman elected in the organization’s history. Due to the belief that the organization was ignoring his suggestions, however, Bernice stepped down as president the following year.
5. His Granddaughter Yolanda Renee King Recently Spoke At a Washington Rally
Yolanda Renee King, born 2008, is the daughter of Martin Luther King III. She is MLK’s eldest grandchild, and is named after her late aunt Yolanda Denise King. Yolanda recently spoke at a March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC, where she referenced her grandfather and the impact he had on people’s lives.
“My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character,” she said. “I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun free world, period.”
“I have a dream that enough is enough,” Yolanda added. “And that this should be a gun-free world, period. Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation!” Watch the full speech above.