Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Yolanda King dies at 51

 Yolanda Denise King (17 Nov. 1955-15 May 2007) collapsed and died suddenly in Santa Monica, CA on the doorway of her brother, Dexter King’s home.  Cause of death has not yet been revealed, but family members suspect a heart attack–Yolanda had become a large woman in recent years and, on average, African-Americans have been more susceptible to high blood pressure and other heart-related conditions. 

A public memorial is being planned for Ms. King next week.

The oldest of the children born to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Yolanda King was born in Montgomery, AL and had become a human rights worker, actor, and the founder of a production company.  She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Atlanta, GA, and was founding director of its Cultural Affairs Program.  She served on the Partnership Council of Habitat for Humanity, was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (founded by her father), and a life-member of the NAACP, and a sponsoring member (like her mother before her) of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Yolanda King earned a B.A. (with honors) from Smith College and a Master’s degree in Theatre from New York University. 

In 1978, she played Rosa Parks in the TV mini-series King. Other films and TV show appearances included Hopscotch (1981), Death of a Prophet (1981) playing Betty Shabazz, wife/widow of Malcolm X, Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), and Selma, Lord, Selma (1999) along with many others. She founded and ran the production company, Higher Ground Productions.

A faithful Baptist Christian active in Progressive National Baptist and American Baptist circles, Ms. King was no stranger to controversy. Along with her mother, Coretta, Yolanda supported the work of Soulforce in ending religious discrimination against sexual minorities.  She supported her younger sister, Bernice’s ordination to the gospel ministry, but opposed the campaign that Bernice and her pastor, launched against GLBT folks, and publicly rebuked Bernice for using their father’s name in such a campaign, pointing to the crucial role of gays like Bayard Rustin played in the Civil Rights Movement.  Nevertheless, when Coretta Scott King died in January 2006, it was Yolanda who played family peacemaker and arranged to have the memorial service at Bernice’s church, with Bernice presiding.

Another powerful Christian voice for justice, peace, and human rights has passed from the scene.  We the living must take up the burdens that Yolanda has now laid down.  Rest in peace, good and faithful servant of the One Servant.


May 17, 2007 - Posted by | Baptists, Obituaries

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