As it has officially since 1986, the nation will pause again this coming Monday to commemorate the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on January 15, 1929. A federal holiday, some states simultaneously use the occasion to celebrate civil rights more broadly.

Right up until his tragic assassination in 1968, Dr. King’s ministry focused on his fervent advocacy for nonviolent activism regarding racial equality.

Speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August of 1963, Dr. King implored:

“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.”

Has that portion of Dr. King’s dream been fulfilled in the years since his death? Whatever came of those children: sons Martin Luther King III and Dexter, and daughters Yolanda and Bernice?

As of this writing, three of the four are still living. Yolanda passed away in 2007.

As the oldest of Martin and Coretta’s children, Yolanda was 12 when she lost her father. All her life, she said the stinger sound of a news bulletin would cause her heart to sink. It brought her back to that horrible April day when she learned of her father’s death.

Yolanda, who would go on to an acting career, once reflected, “My father could be bigger than life behind the podium while at home he was this little teddy bear, so gentle and warm. I know he’s very pleased with what I’ve done.”

Martin Luther King III was ten back in 1968. He says he has warm memories of traveling with his dad, and never worried for their safety because he trusted his father would protect him. Martin grew up to be a civil rights attorney. He recently told Time Magazine:

“I think a culture of nonviolence will help create the condition where poverty is unacceptable, where racism is way behind us and not something that we have to deal with on a frequent basis, and where militarism and violence are reduced almost to be nonexistent.”

Dexter was 7 when his dad died. He studied business at Moorhouse College, went into music and in 1993 became chairman, president and CEO of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Dr. King’s youngest child, Bernice, was just five years old, and remembers being confused whether her dad was ever coming back. She grew up and graduated from Spelman College and then earned master’s and law degrees from Emory University. She is now ordained and is CEO of the King Center.

The King children’s academic and professional successes notwithstanding, there have been internal family feuds from time to time. Reports indicate Martin and Dexter sued Bernice over matters of their father’s estate, including possession of Dr. King’s Bible and Nobel Peace Prize medal.

Yet, there’s little doubt Dr. King’s “dream” and prayers for his children have been largely realized. Differences of opinion may exist related to the pace of progress concerning civil rights, but as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday arrives this coming Monday, all Americans can give thanks and agree with the pithy and popular aphorism:

We aren’t where we want to be; we aren’t where we ought to be; but thank goodness we aren’t where we used to be.


Image from Getty.