05.16.07 Yolnda King Died At
The Age Of 51
Eldest daughter of Martin
Luther King Jr. dies Yolanda Denise King was 51; death
may have been due to a heart problem
May 16: The eldest daughter of civil rights leader Dr.
Martin Luther King dies in California. NBC's Jinah Kim
Updated: 10:28 a.m. PT May 16, 2007
ATLANTA - Yolanda King, the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr.’s eldest child who pursued her father’s dream of
racial harmony through drama and motivational speaking,
collapsed and died after making a speech. She was 51.
King died late Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif., said
Steve Klein, a spokesman for the King Center. The family
did not know the cause of death, but relatives think it
might have been a heart problem, he said.
“She was an actress, author, producer, advocate for
peace and nonviolence, who was known and loved for her
motivational and inspirational contributions to
society,” the King family said in a statement.
Former Mayor Andrew Young, a lieutenant of her father’s
who has remained close to the family, said she was going
to her brother Dexter’s home when she collapsed in the
doorway and “they were not able to revive her.”
Her death came less than a year and a half after her
mother, Coretta Scott King, died in January 2006. Her
struggle prompted her daughter to work with the American
Heart Association to raise awareness about strokes,
especially among blacks.
Yolanda King, who lived in California, was an actress,
ran a production company and appeared in numerous films,
including “Ghosts of Mississippi.” She played Rosa Parks
in the 1978 miniseries “King.”
Civil rights movement ‘in her DNA’
“Yolanda was lovely. She
wore the mantle of princess, and she wore it with
dignity and charm,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, one of
her father’s close aides in the civil-rights movement.
He added she was “thoroughly committed to the movement
and found her own means of expressing that commitment
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also worked with her father,
said: “She lived with a lot of the trauma of our
struggle. The movement was in her DNA.” The Rev. Al
Sharpton called her a “torch bearer for her parents and
a committed activist in her own right.”
White House press secretary Tony Snow said President
Bush and the first lady were sad to learn of King’s
death, adding, “Our thoughts are with the King family
Yolanda King founded and led Higher Ground Productions,
billed as a “gateway for inner peace, unity and global
transformation.” On her company’s Web site, she
described her mission as encouraging personal growth and
positive social change.
The flag at The King Center, where she was a board
member, flew at half-staff on Wednesday.
A life in the movement
Yolanda Denise King — nicknamed Yoki by the family — was
born Nov. 17, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., where her
father was then preaching. Her brother Martin III was
born in 1957; brother Dexter in 1961; and sister Bernice
She was born just two weeks before Rosa Parks refused to
give up her seat on a bus there, leading to the
Montgomery bus boycott spearheaded by her father.
She was just 10 weeks old when the King family home was
bombed in Jan. 30, 1956, as her father attended a
boycott rally. Neither she nor her mother was injured
when the device exploded on the front porch.
She was 7 when her father mentioned her and her siblings
in his 1963 speech at the March on Washington: “I have a
dream that my four little children will one day live in
a nation where they will not be judged by the color of
their skin but by the content of their character.”
She was 12 when her father was assassinated in Memphis,
Tenn., in 1968.
Visible role after mother's death
Yolanda King was the most
visible of the four children during this year’s Martin
Luther King Day in January, the first since her mother’s
When asked by The Associated Press at that event how she
was dealing with the loss of her mother, she responded:
“I connected with her spirit so strongly. I am in direct
contact with her spirit, and that has given me so much
peace and so much strength.”
At her father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, she
performed a series of solo skits that told stories
including a girl’s first ride on a desegregated bus and
a college student’s recollection of the 1963 campaign to
desegregate Birmingham, Ala.
She also urged the audience to be a force for peace and
love, and to use the King holiday each year to ask tough
questions about their own beliefs about prejudice.
“We must keep reaching across the table and, in the
tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott
King, feed each other,” she said.
Funeral arrangements would be announced later, the
family said in a brief statement.