The applause was loud and sustained virtually every moment that Yolanda King was on stage performing her one-woman theatrical performance. The audience beamed with love, joy and most importantly appreciation for her. This writer did too as I sat spellbound in the first row of the Los Angeles church where King performed. The occasion was the annual King Day celebration last year.
The audience didn't embrace and idolize King solely because she was the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of those in the audience weren't even born when King was alive. And the applause for her wasn't solely out of a misty nostalgia for the civil rights movement. Most there had no first hand knowledge or involvement in the civil rights battles four decades ago. No, their applause and respect was for her, and her moving on stage recapture of the pain, suffering, and sacrifice as well as the triumphs of the civil rights movement. Their sustained applause was also given out of deep appreciation for her impassioned crusade to keep Dr. King's dream alive by actively opposing Bush's wasteful and ruinous Iraq war, championing women and gay rights, and fighting for economic justice for the poor.
In between her theatrical skits, she would pause take a deep breath, and in measured but passionate tones remind the audience that King's dream still was unfulfilled. She in turn prodded, cajoled, and implored the audience that the best way to keep her father's dream alive was to be active fighters for peace and social justice.
Yolanda King understood that decades after the great civil rights battles of the 1960s blacks are still two and three times more likely to be unemployed than whites, trapped in segregated neighborhoods, and that their kids will attend disgracefully failing, mostly segregated public schools. It ignores the reality that young black males and females are far more likely to be murdered, suffer HIV/AIDS affliction, to be racially-profiled by police, imprisoned, placed on probation or parole, permanently barred in many states from voting because of felony convictions, are much more likely to receive the death penalty especially if their victims are white, and are more likely to be victims of racially motivated violence than whites.
She well knew that middle-class blacks that reaped the biggest gains from the civil rights struggles often find the new suburban neighborhoods they move to are re-segregated and soon look like the old neighborhoods they fled. They are ignored by cab drivers, followed by clerks in stores, left fuming at restaurants because of poor or no service, find that more and more of their sons and daughters are cut out of scholarships and student support programs at universities because of the demolition of affirmative action, and denied bank loans for their businesses and homes.
Then there are the fierce battles over affirmative action, police violence, the segregation laws still on the books in some Southern states, and the nightmarish scenes of thousands of poor blacks fleeing for their lives from the Katrina floodwaters in New Orleans, and the big fight over what if anything should be done about the plight of the black poor. These are further bitter reminders of the gaping economic and racial chasm in America. Yolanda knew that as well, and was a resolute fighter for the poor.
In the decades after King's murder, Yolanda stormed the barricades against racial injustice, economic inequality, military adventurism, and against hate crimes and violence. She wrote countless letters, gave speeches, and participated in direct action campaigns. She continued to fiercely protect King's legacy from the opportunists that twisted and sullied his words and name.
The civil rights struggle has now become the stuff of nostalgia, history books, and the memoirs of aging former civil rights leaders. Yet, millions remain trapped in poverty, and racial discrimination still pervades much of American society. Dr. King's dream was to free them from that plight. Yolanda King and her father shared that same dream. And like her father she did more than dream.
She brought her relentless passion and vision for peace and social justice to that battle. Her and her father's vision of what America still can be continues to challenge us to do our part to make that vision a reality for millions of Americans of all races.
We'll deeply miss Yolanda King. But it can be truly be said that she was more than just King's daughter.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.