Bernice King: Racial justice activism must focus on strategy

  • 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.

    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. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Feb. 5, 1965, file photo, C.T. Vivian, left, leads a prayer on the courthouse steps in Selma, Ala., after Sheriff James Clark, background with helmet, stopped him at the door with a court order. Vivian led hundreds of demonstrators carrying petitions asking for longer voter registration hours. A civil rights veteran, 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. Jackson, Mississippi's current mayor declared Wednesday, May 26, 2021, as C.T. Vivian Day in the state's capital city.

    FILE - In this Feb. 5, 1965, file photo, C.T. Vivian, left, leads a prayer on the courthouse steps in Selma, Ala., after Sheriff James Clark, background with helmet, stopped him at the door with a court order. Vivian led hundreds of demonstrators carrying petitions asking for longer voter registration hours. A civil rights veteran, 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. Jackson, Mississippi's current mayor declared Wednesday, May 26, 2021, as C.T. Vivian Day in the state's capital city. Associated Press

  • Denise Morse autographs a book about her father, the late C.T. Vivian, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi's capital city honored the civil rights activism of the late Rev. C.T. Vivian 60 years after he and other Freedom Riders were arrested upon arrival in Jackson as they challenged segregation in interstate buses and bus terminals across the American South. Jackson's current mayor declared Wednesday as C.T. Vivian Day.

    Denise Morse autographs a book about her father, the late C.T. Vivian, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi's capital city honored the civil rights activism of the late Rev. C.T. Vivian 60 years after he and other Freedom Riders were arrested upon arrival in Jackson as they challenged segregation in interstate buses and bus terminals across the American South. Jackson's current mayor declared Wednesday as C.T. Vivian Day. Associated Press

  • Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks during a voting rights rally at Liberty Plaza near the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Atlanta.

    Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks during a voting rights rally at Liberty Plaza near the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Atlanta. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/10/2021 9:50 PM

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.

 

'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.

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'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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