CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — On the first day of Black History Month, Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter and CEO of The King Center, said people still need to remain vigilant when fighting for their rights.
Ordinary people can make big changes like her father, Bernice King said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America” Tuesday.
“We can all be a solutionist when we look at what is happening in our world, and make our individual contributions, according to the passion within us and the gifts and talents that we have,” she said.
Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work fighting racial segregation. This was the same year Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against Black people and other marginalized groups in hiring, education and other areas.
Known for his message of nonviolence, the late civil rights leader’s speeches, especially “I Have a Dream” and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” continue to be revered.
Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot at a Memphis hotel in 1968.
After her father was assassinated, Bernice King said, many people told his wife, Coretta Scott King, to stay home and focus on raising her children.
But Bernice King said her mother had a calling to institutionalize Martin Luther King’s legacy.
It was watching Coretta Scott King push forward and pick herself up again and again, no matter the circumstance, that gave her daughter the courage to do the same.
“I drew from her examples of never giving up, of pursuing the things that were in her heart to pursue,” Bernice King said. “She felt that this world needed to understand the nonviolence … she was a very strong and powerful woman.”
While her parents were focused on defeating segregation that was cemented by law, and were successful in removing laws that restricted Black people’s access to opportunities in the South, the biggest fight the country is facing now is reaching what Bernice King said is “true equality, where there is equity.”
“We have the power and the strength within us to challenge those situations, circumstances and conditions that would seek to divide us as a humanity,” King said.
One example of this is the discussion around voting and voting rights legislation taking place, a topic Bernice King has been vocal on.
Civil rights leaders have said states are passing laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and other marginalized groups to vote as a result of former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election being stolen.
These laws that have been passed include consolidating polling locations, refusing to allow water distribution in long lines and requiring certain types of identification.
Legislation like this would have disappointed her father, Bernice King has previously said.
To some, it may appear that the country is reverting back to a darker time because of the efforts to create these laws, which are similar to those passed back in the days of racial segregation, Bernice King said.
But she believes people “can use that fervor and strength to be vigilant” and make sure federal voting rights legislation is passed.
“People of goodwill often get a little comfortable and feel like ‘OK, we’ve made this stride or we achieved this goal and we kind of lay back,” Bernice King said. “But we have to remain vigilant in the face of adversity because as my mom says the struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won— you earn it and win in every generation.”
“We should never give up,” King said, adding that her parents and other civil rights leaders never did, even when facing severe violence. “We have to continue in that same strength today.”
Bernice King recently co-authored a new book, “It Starts with Me,” which follows one character, Amora, who encourages her friends to “open their hearts and minds by allowing love to drive their words, actions and thoughts,” according to the King Center’s website. Proceeds from the book’s sales will go to the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, the King Center is a nonprofit that aims to teach the world about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, and provides non-violence education and training, programs and more.