Yolanda King

Yolanda King

The Free Press

MANKATO — Speaking to a crowd of hundreds packed into the Centennial Student Union Ballroom in March of 2006, Yolanda King noted that most of her audience was born decades after the most intense years of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“For some of you, it seems like ancient history,” King joked during her lecture at Minnesota State University.

But nearly 40 years after the assassination of her father, Martin Luther King Jr., she said we are still challenged to realize the civil rights leader’s dream of peace and equality.

“We as a nation, we as humanity, have not reached the Promised Land,” she said.

It was what her father called “the beloved community,” a multicultural society built on peaceful coexistence. To achieve that dream, she said, each person must use “the last of our human freedoms” — the power to choose.

King said that meant choosing to be open instead of biased, to uplift instead of hurt and to embrace diversity.

“We must celebrate those differences until difference doesn’t make a difference in how we treat each other,” she said.

It was not so long ago, she said, that Black children were set on by police dogs and knocked down with water hoses when they marched in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. To a younger generation, that time must “seem like misty images out of a horror story,” King said.

“But it was not a mirage.”

King said she had just passed through “one of the most difficult times” of her life, following the death of her mother, Coretta Scott King, in January 2006. But she said she also found a surprising inner peace and a renewed energy to fight for equality.

That effort is focused on the educational system, she said. The narrative of American history taught in schools must begin with the American Indians, who arrived long before Columbus, and include the many peoples of different nations who came together to build the country, King said.

“Our objective must be to teach and tell that story as if everyone mattered. And indeed they do.”

Near the end of her lecture, King quoted not her father but another man who died trying to achieve peace: Mahatma Gandhi.

“‘You must be the change you want to see in the world.’”

Yolanda King died in May 2007. She was 51.

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