Bernice King: Racial justice activism must focus on strategy

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Copyright 2012. The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activist C.T. Vivian poses in his home in Atlanta. Vivian, who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and served as head of the organization co-founded by the civil rights icon, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and died in July 2020 in Atlanta. The mayor of Jackson, Miss., has declared Wednesday, May 26, 2021, as C.T. Vivian Day in Mississippi's capital city. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

ATLANTA – The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s youngest daughter said she's afraid American society is unraveling, telling a Christian radio network on Thursday that "I don’t know what’s going to happen ultimately to democracy."

But Dr. Bernice King also said she is determined to be part of the solution, working to transform minds and help unite a divided nation.

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“There are a number of bridge builders out there, I’m one of them, and we are determined to ensure that we do not lose our humanity,” King said.

Bernice King joined former U.N. Ambassador, congressman and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and several other panelists in a webinar hosted by the Alliance for Christian Media about the legacy of Dr. C.T. Vivian, a civil rights strategist and mentor to many more prominent figures of the movement. Vivian died last July at the age of 95, hours before the death of Rep. John Lewis, at 80.

Bernice King's father had called Vivian “the greatest preacher who ever lived,” a fierce and influential advocate for social justice. Panelists also described Vivian's optimism and humility, and his desire to see the best in other people, even if it was a racist Alabama sheriff who prevented Black people from registering to vote.

But when asked what advice Vivian would have given to Black Lives Matter protesters today, Bernice King was blunt: “Respect the power of strategy.”

“We aren’t stopping to strategize, organize, mobilize and put together a strategy," she said. King and Vivian knew that “the power of nonviolence is the most potent weapon that any people who are oppressed can use,” but they also realized that people had to see success to believe in it.

“Daddy understood that people were really tired and incensed at what was happening, but we weren’t getting any victories," she said. “He brought to this movement a strategy of nonviolence that brought people to victories,” first with the boycott that ended segregation on city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, and then in other carefully planned acts of civil disobedience across the South.

“What we need now is some victories,” she said, pointing to the conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. “It was a small piece. We need more victories.”

Young, 89, also shared his fears, saying “I’m probably more concerned right now than I’ve ever been before in all my life.”

“I’ve never had such anxiety about Congress, or the presidency or the Supreme Court. Even during the movement, we thought we could trust John Kennedy. We knew Lyndon Johnson was a Southerner who understood race,” Young said. “There was always a very realistic approach to social change, and we were always optimistic."

Now, Young said, he prays that America's democracy will overcome its challenges.

“I think we are all deeply concerned; I’m very troubled myself, but not without hope," Bernice King interjected. “It's part of the process of change and transformation, that friction is always going to happen. But there's always a critical mass that eventually emerges."

“There is a God in this universe — this is what pulled the movement together — and it’s the same God that C.T. Vivian, John Lewis and all the rest believed in,” she said. “They believed that if we persist, if we’re hopeful, if we do the necessary work,” we'll succeed.

King also referred to her late mother in an effort to lighten the conversation, saying “Coretta Scott King told me the darkest hour is just before the dawn. The only thing I wish I'd asked her is, just how dark is it going to have to get?”

Other speakers included C.T. Vivian's son Al and Steve Fiffer, who wrote Vivian's posthumously published memoir, “It's in the Action.” CNN anchor Don Lemon moderated the panel.

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