The sudden and untimely passing of Yolanda King, sent shock waves throughout the entire country. She was the eldest child of the most revered human beings in America, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights icon, and Mother Coretta Scott King, who single-handedly carried on the King’s legacy through the King Center for Non-violence and Social Change. She died on Tuesday, May 15, in Santa Monica, California at the young age of 51. The cause of death has yet to be determined.
An actress, author and an advocate for peace, King carried on her father’s legacy through her artistic endeavors, motivational and inspirational contributions to society. She founded Higher Ground Productions, and appeared in numerous films, including Ghosts of Mississippi, and the miniseries, King. But the thrust of her life was as an activist devoted to the legacies of her parents, and promoting non-violence and social change through the arts.
King was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on November 17, 1955 in the midst of the turbulent civil rights era. She was less than a month old when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Just eight weeks later, the family home was bombed when a device exploded on the front porch. And she was seven years old when her father gave his famous “I- Have-a-Dream” speech where he mentioned “my four little children.” She was one of those four little children, which included her siblings, Martin III, Dexter and Bernice.
King was 12 years old when her father was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968. Her life thus far was punctuated by a series of traumatic events that eventually helped to shape her future and her calling as an artist for fundamental social change in a society filled with violence. She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she majored in theater and African American studies, and earned a master’s degree in theater at New York University, respectively.
Her life’s work through her company was billed as a “gateway for inner peace, unity and global transformation,” and her mission, as a beacon for personal growth and positive social change.
Funeral arrangements would be announced later, according to a family spokesperson. However, tributes continue to flow in honor of Yolanda King’s passing!
Rev. Jesse Jackson: “I was shocked and numbed by the passing of Yolanda King. She worked through great tragedies and lived with a lot of the trauma of our struggle. She had a great sense of character and a non-negotiable dignity. It is important to note that because of her, we must remember to get personal and family checkups to the best of our abilities. Her passing has left us all dumbfounded.”
Ambassador Andrew Young: “Yolanda King was a wonderful young woman who always struggled to be independent. She did not want to get by off her name, she wanted her own career, and she had her own circle of friends. She was aware that she had a heart condition and that it ran in the family. I think she was in California speaking at a Heart Association Benefit and she came to her brother’s house and just collapsed. They were not able to revive her. Her mother suffered the same condition. She worked with the Heart Association to educate people and people are under more stress than they realize, and as wonderful as Yolanda seemed, I never saw her depressed, sad or angry with anybody. She was the most positive child that I know.”
Bishop Kenneth Ulmer: “Yolanda had her father’s vision of hope and her mother’s heart of compassion. She was committed to inspiring and encouraging through empowerment and entertainment. She, like her mother, was a great lady.”
Myrlie Evers-Williams, Chair Emeritus of the NAACP: “I am shocked and saddened by the untimely transition of Yolanda King. I remember her beautiful spirit, her smile and the depth of her humanity. I always admired her ability to keep her sights set, her ability to find herself and express herself apart from the greatness of her family. We extend our sympathies to the King family.”
Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus: “Today, a King has been called home. We are saddened to learn of the death of Yolanda King. Committed to advancing the promise of her father’s dream, Yolanda used her theatrical talents to promote social justice and equality. Through her dramatic interpretations, she turned pain into power and transformed the stage into a classroom. Our prayers are extended to her siblings: Sister Reverend Bernice A. King, and brothers, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, as well as scores of family and friends.”
Gwen Green longtime friend of the King family: “Yolanda King has been an inspiration to women in general, and to African American women particular, for her combination of courage, compassion, humility and talent. While at the same time, she remained true to the values of her mother and father.”
Julian Bond, Chairman National Board of the NAACP: “Yolanda King’s death saddens us all, not least because of her young age. In Atlanta, she was my neighbor and my children’s playmate. She followed her parents’ social justice tradition in life. The NAACP joins the world in offering condolences to her family and friends.”
Willis Edwards, National Board member of the NAACP: “It is a saddening loss of a very gifted, bright, wonderful human being, who always shared her beautiful smile. In the theatrical world, she had earned the respect of others by learning her craft. She did not let the limelight get to her. She was always a part of the people, a part of us.