Yolanda King, 51; Child of Civil Rights Leader

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Yolanda King, 51, the eldest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King who was born in the crucible of the Montgomery bus boycott and who advocated for civil rights through her acting and motivational speaking, died May 15 in Santa Monica, Calif.

The cause of death was not known, though the family suspects cardiopulmonary problems, a spokesman for the King Center said. She collapsed and died in the doorway of the home of her brother, Dexter Scott King, former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young told the Associated Press.

Ms. King, a resident of Culver City, Calif., ran a film production company and appeared in numerous films, including "Ghosts of Mississippi," in which she played Medgar Evers's daughter, Reena, and in the 1978 television miniseries "King," in which she played Rosa Parks.

Her performances of her father's "I Have a Dream" speech, often given during Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Atlanta, inspired audiences.

"I am a 100 percent, dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying believer in the dream," she said in January at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Ms. King, known to family and friends as "Yoki," was 12 years old when her father was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. She learned of his death from a television bulletin while she was washing dishes at the family's Atlanta home.

"I just ran out of the room and screamed, 'I don't want to hear it,' " she told People magazine in 1999. "To this day, my heart skips a beat every time I hear one of those special bulletins."

She was already on her way to becoming an actress and performer but struggled with public expectations that she would star in the civil rights movement.

"People expect me to pick up the movement, to assume the role of spokesperson and to determine where we go from here, to embody my father's ideas and philosophies and struggles that he waged," she told employees of the General Services Administration in Washington in 1980. "On the one hand, that is what I have done, but I have done it in a different way."

Her way was to found Higher Ground Productions, a firm dedicated to personal growth and positive social change.

In 1984, while her mother watched, she was arrested in Washington during anti-apartheid protests in front of the South African Embassy. It was the first time she had been jailed, she said.

Two years ago, she sided with her brother Dexter on the proposed sale of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change to the National Park Service, a move opposed by their other siblings, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Bernice A. King. The dispute has not been resolved. Her siblings survive her.

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