Dr. Christine King Farris, the last surviving sibling of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died Thursday, June 29, in Atlanta, Georgia. She was 95. Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Dr. King and niece to Farris, announced her death in a social media post.
“I love you and will miss you, Aunt Christine,” Rev. King wrote. A Celebration of Life arrangements will be announced later, according to a statement released by The King Center. The Farris/King family will hold a press conference on June 30.
Dr. Farris supported Dr. King throughout his life. She joined him in 1965 for the March for Voting Rights in Alabama and in 1966 for the March Against Fear in Mississippi. Farris is credited with lending King money so he could buy his engagement ring for Ms. Coretta Scott King.
Throughout her life, Farris would talk about the multiple tragedies she lived through, calling herself “the lone family survivor.” “I think of the things that I’ve faced in my life, and sometimes I question how I’m still here,” Mrs. Farris told CNN in 2008.
She lived through the assassination of Dr. King in 1968; the drowning death of her younger brother, Alfred Daniel King, known as A.D., in his home swimming pool in 1969; and the assassination of her mother, Alberta King, during a church service at the family’s Church – Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Dr. Farris, a founding board member of The King Center, worked with her sister-in-law, the late Coretta Scott King, to begin a memorial library “documenting Dr. King’s journey and the civil rights movement.” Dr. Farris served as Vice President, treasurer, and chief financial officer of The King Center. She would continue to serve in numerous positions throughout her life with the Center she loved.
In a statement from Martin Luther King III, he said: “Aunt Christine embodied what it meant to be a public servant. Like my dad, she fought for equality and against racism in America. She defied the odds that held back too many marginalized communities – going on to become a civil rights leader and acclaimed author. No stranger to adversity, Aunt Christine used the tragedies of the assassinations of her mother and brother to fight for change in America.”
Farris was born Willie Christine King in 1927. She was the oldest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Christine Williams King. A graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta in 1948, like her mother and grandmother, Farris earned a degree in economics on the same day as her brother Dr. King, who earned his degree in Sociology from Atlanta’s Morehouse College. She earned two master’s degrees in education from Columbia University in 1950 and 1958.
In 1958, Farris returned to Spelman College as a freshman reading program director. She would become one of the “longest-serving professors” at the college, teaching there for over six decades. Dr. Farris authored two children’s books, “My Brother Martin “March On, The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World,” and in 2009, a memoir, “Through It All: Reflections on My Life, My Family, and My Faith.”
Farris often spoke of the humanity of Dr. King as she wanted the world to know what he was like as a brother.
“They think he simply happened, that he appeared fully formed, without context, ready to change the world,” she wrote in her memoir. “Take it from big sister; that’s simply not the case.”
In 1960, Farris married Isaac Newton Farris. Their union lasted 57 years until he died in 2017 at 83. The couple had two children, Dr. Angela Christine Farris-Watkins and Isaac Newton Farris Jr.
A beloved figure in Atlanta, Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), her Senator and Pastor had this to say:
“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Christine King Farris, the longest-serving member of Ebenezer Baptist Church. As the sister of Georgia’s greatest son, Martin Luther King Jr., she fused the lessons of civil rights and education as a Spelman College professor. She passed that training borne of experience to students who now serve all over the world. I’m praying for her family.”
“As her pastor, I can say that up until the very end, she embodied hope, dignity, and deep faith. Long live the memory of Christine King Farris,” Warnock said.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens released a statement saying: “Our hearts are heavy in Atlanta today with the news that Christine King Farris has died.” Farris once said that her “brother Martin simply gave us the blueprint, but it was our duty to carry it out.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote about his sister and their close bond, saying: “My sister was the first one to join the church that morning, and after seeing her join, I decided that I would not let her get ahead of me, so I was the next,” King wrote.
“I had never given this matter a thought, and even at the time of my baptism, I was unaware of what was taking place. From this, it seems quite clear that I joined the church not out of any dynamic conviction but out of a childhood desire to keep up with my sister.”