Posted on July 1, 2020

‘In Storms, All Kinds of Things Can Happen’: Martin Luther King III on a Pivotal Month

Maggie Astor, New York Times, June 30, 2020

{snip} The Times recently spoke with one of them: Martin Luther King III, Dr. King’s oldest son. Mr. King, 62, is a human-rights activist and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and works with nonprofits that promote civil rights both in the United States and abroad.


A lot of people recently have claimed to know what your father “would have said” or “would have thought” about the protests. What do you think he would have said?

I have to qualify it by saying that I think had my father lived, much of what we are engaged in right now would have been resolved, because he wanted to eradicate from our nation and world what he defined as the triple evils: the evils of poverty, racism and militarism, or violence.

If he were to just arrive today as if he had been gone for a number of years, I think he would be greatly disappointed in the America that he left, that he knew and believed had so much to offer the world, because he would know that we are much better than the behavior we are exhibiting. Because he showed us what we could become within his life.

I think, though, he would be very pleased that in his era, you had demonstrations that were largely Black but often whites joined, and in this era, it seems like there are many cities where there are very few Blacks and the overwhelming majority of those demonstrations are white. You’ve got these massive demonstrations all over the world, and whites are leading many of them, saying that Black Lives Matter.

As it relates to this one specific incident, he often said that riots are the language of the unheard. He empathized with those who rioted, although he never condoned violence.

We’ve seen many videos of Black men being killed by the police over the past few years, from Eric Garner to Philando Castile to so many others. What do you think made this one so galvanizing?

Over a 90-day period, starting in Georgia on Feb. 23, you had the death of Ahmaud Arbery, three people chasing this man and killing him predicated on them assuming, at least by their words, that he was a thief. You had Breonna Taylor, who was in her home and there was a no-knock order — they just came in and killed an innocent woman. We’re now becoming aware of another two questionable deaths that occurred when people were saying “I can’t breathe.”

And then of course, the difference with George Floyd, we saw 8 minutes and 46 seconds of a police officer on his neck, and the whole world saw that over and over and over again. To see how inhumane a police officer who’s supposed to protect and serve was — all of the nation and the world saw that. Something went off that we’ve just never experienced before.

I think generally there are far more people of good will than people of evil will, or people who harbor racist views. It’s just that, oftentimes, good people have been silent.


There is a tendency to sanitize social movements in retrospect, to make them seem less confrontational and controversial than they were. Do you see parallels between how your father was regarded during his lifetime and how Black Lives Matter is regarded today?

There’s always going to be a group that attempts to demonize that which is being done, and for their own purposes — not because it’s right, good or just, but just because they want to foster a different position. Dad totally used the method of nonviolence, and he was consistently criticized. If you go back and look at polling data at the time he was killed, he was a marked person.


I think that we as a society, particularly those of faith, we have to pray for change, we have to work for change and we have to be the change. For if love has not yet won, then the battle is not yet over.