Bernice King speaks about father’s fight against discrimination, poverty, and militarism

On Tuesday, February 17th, hundreds gathered in Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) Youngwood’s auditorium to hear Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., speak on a variety of issues.

By Daniella Choynowski

Centerspread Editor

On Tuesday, February 17th, hundreds gathered in Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) Youngwood’s auditorium to hear Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., speak on a variety of issues.

Victor Grisby, a pastor of the Central Baptist Church of Pittsburgh, introduced King, calling her “a driving force for social change and a liberator for all people.”

King began light-hearted, even making a crack at the Steelers: “That’s it for Pittsburgh. Time for you to be sat down.” But her speech quickly turned to more serious matters.

Within the first five minutes of her speech, the subject of the recent historical election came up. King said, “The one question that always comes up is: ‘do you believe the election was the fulfillment of your father’s dream?’ No, it was not.”

King said that if we take a moment and look at the state of affairs, we all must admit that there is a great deal of work to be done. She also refuted many conceptions that people have about her father.

“Many people believed ‘I Have a Dream’ defined my father, that the last portion is the greatest,” said King. Martin Luther King Jr. gave many great speeches in his lifetime, on topics ranging from police brutality to economic injustice. The movement he started was not about race: it was about what Bernice King called “the triple evils: race, poverty, and militarism.”

“They teach you the big movements and about the big name marches where a lot of people were injured. There were a lot of smaller parts: his work against poverty and the military, the war in Vietnam,” said Rebecca Lamison, who attended the lecture.

On April 4th, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. took a public stand against the war in Vietnam, not being able to “fight against segregation of conscience.” He risked alienating the Johnson administration, which had been sympathetic to the movement. Bernice King said her father didn’t care if he went to jail because “a genuinely good leader, honest and pure leader, is not a searcher of consensus but molder of consensus.”

“That belief [today] is what drove many people to cast their votes for Obama,” said King.

Erica Gearheart, a junior, said, “It wasn’t just a race movement. That’s something that not a lot of people know and associate with him and his movement.”

Nonviolence, said King, is her father’s true legacy. The civil rights movement was the first true freedom struggle in America that actually saved lived.

King said, “How much courage does it take to pick up a bottle, brick, or gun to defend oneself? None; it’s reactionary. But it takes courage to not inflict violence on someone who inflicted it on you.”

Several years ago, Bernice King met the mayor of Seoul, Korea while he was visiting the United States. According to King, he turned to her and said, “We wouldn’t be here today if not for Martin Luther King.”

The movement is what made people comfortable coming to America to pursue their dreams; it is what truly made America the “land of the free, and home of the brave.”

King also spoke about why many African-Americans vote Democratic.

In 1960, the King family moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Atlanta, Georgia. Martin Luther King hadn’t switched over his license yet when he was pulled over one night. King was issued a penalty, fine, and six-month probation. That October, King was arrested in Montgomery for violating the probation. He was brought in shackles to Reidsville State Prison.

1960 was an election year: Kennedy/Nixon. Kennedy intervened on King’s behalf after speaking with Coretta King (Bernice’s mother). He was released the next day.

“That election was a turning point in the nation… Prior to 1960, most black people had voted Republican,” said King. Bernice King’s grandfather had been a very influential man, and a Nixon supporter. When he found out what Kennedy did for his son, he immediately switched his support.

King said, “He said he would hand a bagful of votes to Kennedy… That switch influenced thousands to switch to Democrat.”

“We have to finish and continue his work,” said King. Continuing Martin Luther King’s legacy includes taking a seriously look at the nation’s priorities, namely the budget. In the months leading up to the inauguration of Barack Obama, there was an increase in money for military and industrial purposes, and a decrease in money for health.

“I like how she brought in he [Martin Luther King] was working for a better economy and a better social system overall, it wasn’t just about equality and race. It was about poverty and social classes, and not very many people know that,” said Alex Christoff, who also attended the lecture.

“Martin Luther King Jr. called for a reordering of priorities…there must be a commitment to the eradication of the triple evil. We must move forward in courage so we can truly make a better place for generations not just here but all over worlds, and I admire Obama for approaching this democratically,” said King.

“The challenge she has given us is a challenge for our times,” said Grisby.