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Bernice King Reflects On Her Father, MLK Jr., March On Washington

7:27 PM, Aug 23, 2013   |    comments
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Dr. Bernice King has been a busy woman as she and other get ready to reflect on her father, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and its iconic "I have a Dream" Speech. She took time from her busy schedule to reflt on both with WXIA in Atlanta and CBS News.

(CBS News) Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told the world, "I have a dream." 

CBS News' Mark Strassmann sat down with Bernice King, the only one of the civil rights leader's children to follow him into the ministry. They talked about her father and that legendary speech.

Bernice King said of her father and his speech, "As I listen to him, his messages, I'm like, 'Wow. We need you. We need your voice today'."

Pastor Bernice King is Dr. King's youngest child. CBS News met Bernice inside Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father and grandfather both were pastors.

Bernice, asked if she feels her father in the church, said, "He's constantly with me wherever I go. I think about him more today, because he was a moral voice in our society. And we don't have that today -- that voice is missing."

King and Coretta Scott King had four children -- two boys, two girls. Bernice, now 50, remembers her father was gone a lot, but his homecomings were special. "My mother would say that he would just turn into a little kid," she said. "He would get lost in the fun with us. And it was like, is this the same man who is leading the movement?"

After long stretches on the road, Bernice said her father would play with his children. "He would say, 'We're going to play the kissing game.' And I would leap up into his arms, and he would say, 'OK,' and everybody had what he called a sugar spot. Then he would go through all of the kids, and kiss them in various spots, which is (pointing) forehead, two cheekbones, and my sister's happened to be right off the side of the mouth. So that was our time of bonding, really."

Bernice said she doesn't remember a lot of her father, as she was only 5 years old when he was assassinated. At King's funeral in April of 1968, an iconic photo was taken of Bernice in a white dress with her grieving mother. All his fatherless children struggled growing up as Kings.

Bernice King said, "For me, I ran from anything regarding him, and part of it is, you know, this whole shadow. You know, who am I? Honestly, I did not spend much time reading any of his books, listening to his speeches and messages. I just kind of ran away from all of it, and sort of probably resenting it."

As a teenager, Bernice spoke at the United Nations against South Africa's then system of apartheid. At 24, she became an ordained Baptist minister. These days she's also chief executive officer of the King Center For Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta, founded by her mother. A special exhibit there this month commemorates the March on Washington in which 250,000 people crowded the Washington Mall. King spoke last.

The speech's signature moment came in the final four minutes, when he departed from his prepared remarks. "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," he famously said.

Strassmann asked Bernice, "He's talking about you. Was that a lot of pressure over the years?"

She replied, "No. Where I feel the pressure is people's interpretation of whether or not I'm just like him. Because I can't. I'm Bernice. My brothers are who they are. It's like we should be Martin King, Jr., clones, and we never can be, because God created us all uniquely."

The march helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal Voting Rights Act followed. But King's dream called for much more.

Strassmann remarked, "People tend to forget that along with a call for racial harmony, it was also a call for jobs, for a living wage?"

King said, "Right. Exactly."

Strassmann said, "You've seen all the statistics about the black unemployment rate, 14 percent, double the national average; 36 percent of black workers make federal poverty level wages. So what is the state of the dream today?"

"I guess some people would say maybe we are in the same place, in some regards, because the disparities are still great," Bernice said. "He saw racial injustice and economic injustice as twins, and therefore the dream still has to be realized and fulfilled. I mean, we're not there."

Not there, but edging closer, 50 years after her father challenged America's social conscience.

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