He was only a 10-year-old who thought he was having a bad dream the day he heard about his father's assassination on television, but like the children of few other parents, Martin Luther King III will be watched all his life. Because of his name, people will be curious to know how closely he resembles his father , and his achievements will be measured against those of his father, mother and grandfather.
"Right now I'm considering the Peace Corps," said King the day he turned 22 late last month. "It's really at the suggestion of Andrew Young, who has been like a surrogate father to us.I think he suggested it so I could determine who I am, besides the son of Martin Luther King Jr. I haven't been able to totally develop my own identity." King is also considering going law school.
Called "Marty" by his friends, King is a quiet young man who lives in Atlanta with his mother. Since being graduated from Morehouse College last spring with a B.S. in political science, he has worked in the public affairs office of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is thinking of making the switch to the Peace Corps next year.
King talks easily about the search for his identity. Unlike some sons whose quest for self can involve bitterness and struggle, King says his faith in God's wisdom calms him and convinces him he'll be shown the correct path.
"My mother always told the four of us [King is the second oldest of two sons and two daughters] to be our best selves," he says."She always told us, 'You don't have to be a minister or civil rights worker.' But there's something in the blood."
King expects his career will be in politics. In addition to his work in the Atlanta office of the EPA, King is co-chairman along with an Office of Management and Budget employe, Raymone Bain, of the independent Commission for the Advancement of Policy Affecting Youth, the Disadvantaged and the Poor. Their first major project: registering voting-age youths.With an assist from popular rock groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire, King and Bain have organized voter registration desks at rock concerts.
King maintains a heavy schedule of appearances at functions honoring various members of his family, but he says he's not ready to have greatness thrust upon him. If he joins the Peace Corps he'd like to serve a country where the literacy rate is so low his name will not be recognized.
"I don't feel like a spokesman," he says. "You have to prepare yourself to become a spokesman or leader.I hope I don't get on an ego trip . . . in fact, I don't worry about it because I'm so timid. I should feel proud of my name, but pride shouldn't become conceit."
King says all his life he has "had what I've needed and most of what I've wanted," and he says matter-of-factly that he wants to pay some dues by working with the poor.
"If I was to run for mayor of Atlanta, which I have no ambition to do right now, people and the media would say, "What's he done?' Well, I've done the voter registration drive, but I haven't done the nitty-gritty. I've lived quite nicely, and to understand the suffering of the others you have to suffer. The Peace Corps seems the closest I can get to that concept. I do not want to live off my father's name."