Yolanda King, the eldest child of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, died May 15 in Santa Monica at the age of 51.
The cause of her death has not been determined, but according to an Associated Press (AP) report relatives believe it could have been from a heart ailment.
In January of 2006, King took part in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Santa Monica that included the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium at the City’s new Main Library. At that celebration, King described her parents as “modern day architects for achieving the dream” of racial harmony and herself as a “pilot of the dream.” She also noted, “The gulf between the haves and have nots is widening. For those who didn’t know it before, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina revealed it for all of us. The magnificent dream fiercely resolved by Martin Luther King is still a dream. Our job is to make that dream a reality because our very survival depends on it.”
Former Santa Monica Mayor Nat Trives told the Mirror he “was very shocked” to learn of her death. He first met her when they were both guests on a KCRW radio show. To Trives, she was an “eloquent spokeswoman for a movement that lives.” He then added, “For those who believe in Dr. King’s message, the loss of Yolanda leaves us open for someone else to share that message.”
The Chair of the Library Board, Edward Edwards, said King “was very inspirational” and that the City was very honored to have had her participate in the dedication of the library’s auditorium. The auditorium has become the “town square of Santa Monica” due to the many programs that are hosted there. Edwards also said the work being done at the library “will continue her goals.”
Yolanda King was 12 years old when her father was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.
King was the founder and CEO of Higher Ground Productions located in Culver City, an organization that teaches people to celebrate diversity and embrace unity. She also had a nearly 30-year acting career, which included playing Rosa Parks in the NBC-TV movie King and Medgar Evers’ daughter Reena in Ghosts of Mississippi. King also wrote and collaborated on two books, Open My Eyes; Open My Soul and Embracing Your Power in 30 Days.
Yolanda King graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1976 and then went on to New York University for a Master’s degree in theater.
An AP report stated that there would be a May 24 public memorial service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, across the street from where her father preached. Another service will be held in Los Angeles, however at press time no details had been announced.