He was just 10 years old when his father was felled by the bullets of an assassin way back in 1968. But his memories of his father and his mission are so vivid that he is following in his footsteps, travelling the world including Sri Lanka to promote what his father stood and fought for.
His father, who maybe dubbed the Gandhi of the west, was none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. who battled through non-violent means the segregation of the blacks and was considered one of the foremost civil rights advocates of the 20th century.
Son Martin Luther King III is at the helm of 'Realizing the Dream Inc.' founded on the famous words 'I have a dream' that his father thundered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in August 1963 for school integration, fair housing laws, equal rights and jobs for all.
"We are here," stresses Mr. King who was on his first visit to Sri Lanka last week, "because we believe that the philosophy of non-violence has worked and can work worldwide when conflict occurs. War is the worst level of conflict one can be exposed to. My father and his team taught people how to live together without destroying each other's personal property. My father's philosophy may have an application in Sri Lanka. Our team shows how it can be done non-violently."
However, he hastens to add that the Sri Lankan people must allow and want them to be here -- no one can dictate what Sri Lanka should decide. This philosophy may have an application to Sri Lanka if the people here decide so. The people of Sri Lanka must want the country to be the best in the world.
"How we can help is by inclusively including those who feel excluded because of the war and hostility,” said Mr. King. His team from 'Realizing the Dream Inc.', a non-profit organization with the vision of carrying on the work embodied in the legacy of his father, has been to Sri Lanka twice, in November last year for about 8-10 days to prepare for his coming this year and then with him last week.
Going back to his childhood, Mr. King recalls how he got to travel with his father about 10 times, seeing him in meetings, speaking to people, interacting. "I saw him in the context of the work that he did. We didn't spend a lot of quantity of time - but the quality was incredible… remarkable."
Their father took the two boys (Mr. King and his brother, Dexter) with him when he exercised at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). "We would watch him, we would play with him. He taught us how to swim. Days when we rode our bicycles, other days when we played American football and baseball and other sports."
Sunday mornings they would spend time together as a family - "the four children, my mum….the six of us would sit together and talk about the issues that he was involved in. It helped us to appreciate the work he was doing".
|A photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. displayed at the Commemorative Exhibition’ Justice Everywhere’ held at the National Art Gallery
Research on the family indicates that Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. was reluctant to name the eldest son (he is the second child, the first being a girl)) Martin Luther King, III "realizing the burdens it can create for the child". This was because not only Nobel Peace laureate Martin Luther King, Jr, was a silver-tongued orator, political strategist and essayist but his father too, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. had rocked the walls of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta with his "thunderous sermons".
When asked by the Sunday Times whether he has been able to step into his father's shoes, Mr. King was quick to reply, "What I am doing is trying to continue to do the work he and my mother started. Yes, sometimes it is difficult……a daunting task".
But, he explains that fulfilment comes when he realizes that whenever he and his team visit a community, people seem to want to hear the message his father and Mahatma Gandhi fostered. That is "rewarding", according to Mr. King.
Martin Luther King Jr. who is said to have "travelled more than six million miles and spoken over twenty-five hundred times" is believed to have taken his ideals from Christianity and the operational techniques from Gandhi.
Last year son Mr. King had visited India, Bosnia, Serbia, Israel and South Africa while this year, in addition to Sri Lanka, he hopes to go to China, Brazil and Venezuela, setting up International Youth Corps. groups to teach and expose young people to non-violent conflict resolution.
"I've never been anywhere where someone says we don't want to hear….(the message of non-violence). Maybe some don't want to hear - the ultimate goal is to bring them around to a point when they say….I didn't want to hear that message before but it resonates within me. That's the beauty - that's why it works," says Mr. King.
The King family, however, has also not been without conflict. When asked about the squabbling, between him and brother, Dexter, about their father's legacy, he conceded that "even in your personal affairs you can have a conflict but resolve it in a non-violent way". They were headed to court, he said, adding that court is one way of addressing an issue but they settled it out of court. "We have addressed it in a different way, which is even better. We resolved that issue in October last year and we have put it behind us. We are moving forward to continue the message of 'beloved community' within our family and then the world."
To speculation that his brother has still not met Mr. King's little daughter, he said that his brother is in California. He's talked to her (on the phone) and has pictures of her, but not met her physically. When he comes to Atlanta, he will meet her.
When asked whether his father's dream and hope of………"my four little children will one day have a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" has been fulfilled, Mr. King said that it has been realized in a way but not totally. "No where near its totality. My father talked about getting rid of the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism."
With regard to racism, great strides have been made, according to Mr. King and the greatest was the election of President Barack Obama (the first black President in America). But the large number of people living in poverty without health care and the huge amount of money on militarism worry him.
"We need to find ways to address and reduce poverty and change how our military is used. There is a large body of work to be done before my father's dream becomes a reality. We are working on it everyday," he said.
Mr. King and his team bade goodbye to Sri Lanka, with the promise of returning, the team in March and he before the year is out, if Sri Lankans would like to be part of the International Youth Corps.….."we'd love to have them".
Next week: Lankan touch in Martin Luther King Center
This is the famous Martin Luther King Center with crypt and all, adjacent to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where both Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. rocked the congregation with their powerful oratory in Georgia, Atlanta.
How many do know that embedded in its history, the Center commissioned by Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr, is the touch of a Sri Lankan engineer from the village of Dodanduwa in Galle, who made good in America. Read all about it in next week's PLUS.