In Black America; Yolanda King: Understanding The Black Struggle
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn't matter with me now because I've been to the mountain top, and I don't mind. Like anybody I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place, but I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will, and He's allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know the night that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight, I'm not worried about anything, I'm not feeling any man, my eyes
have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Despite the gains made by blacks in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality is still on your dream, says Yelanda King, daughter of a late civil rights leader. Although her father was able to move us closer towards the kingdom of God, blacks and other Americans are still living under a system of government that is perpetuating the chain of poverty, spending more money on the military than education. This week, Yelanda King in Black America. From Communication Center, University of Texas at Austin, this is in Black America, discussions of the Black Experience in Contemporary American Society.
With this week's program, here's your producer and host, John D. Henson. Yelanda King, actress, teacher, and now civil rights activist, is a daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s King is also a director of the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change in Atlanta. In Black America as Yelanda, when she became involved in the civil rights movement. I really feel like I've been involved, at least if I'm curiously, since I was born. I came into this world about two weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up a seat on the bus in Montgomery, which really triggered the civil rights movement as we know it. In the present generation, and even though I was not an activist by any means, by any stretch of the imagination, my father felt since he was putting his life on the line that we deserve
protection and a bit of sheltering so we did not participate as much as now that I'm old I would have liked to in various demonstrations and marches and boycotts and so forth. Because he was so close to it and so many of my friends, their parents were as well. It was very hard to be separated from it. And then since his death, I have made one of my many concerns to make sure that the work that he did and his philosophy would not, that I would not share that simply because he was my father, but because I really believed in what he was saying. So I've studied and I have read and I've made sure that I know it and accepted from where I am and who I am, as separate from the daughter of so that I can, so that indeed it is an organic, natural part of my beliefs and my progression.
And so I have been quite active over the last ten years or so in a variety of different issues and causes and participating in rallies and demonstrations and so forth supporting a number of issues and just trying to do what I can to continue the work, to continue to instill, to attempt to instill in people the hope and the desire and hopefully the commitment to get up and do something and that's really what the bottom line is. Has it been difficult being the daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King? Well, there are certainly some difficulties just as there are certainly some blessings and advantages. People, there are certain expectations that people do have of you, certain images that they would love for you to fit into, little boxes that they'd like for you
to just slide very neatly into. I spent a few years trying to stay away from, in fact, to go in the opposite direction from anything that I knew people expected. I had to do that just for fun to find myself. And I'm really glad that I did it. Being in theater, I'm a theatrical artist by profession. I enjoy playing roles so that was a brief kind of diversion. But it's interesting that I've come back to very much to what my father, to feeling and believing very strongly, many of the things that my father believed. And though I am heading in the same direction, I'm definitely trying very, well, I don't have to try. I can't walk in his footsteps. I mean, it's just too big. And I break my
neck if I ever try. So what I'm trying to do is to, in my own way, to continue the work and to continue the drain. And there are, certainly, there are difficulties, but everybody's life has some difficulties. Throughout your travels, have the condition for black Americans changed since the beginning of the civil rights movement in the early 60s? By all means. Many people feel that we've regressed, and perhaps, to some extent, we have stagnated in the last 10 years, the last decade. But the South is a completely different world now than when I was a child. And there doesn't take much to see that. They are certainly more black faces in high places. And that is very good. And we cannot acknowledge that we have to affirm that and be very proud about that. But the fact of
the matter is that the masses of our people are still locked out of the system. And that is where the work is still left to be done. Do you find minorities particularly blacks understand the political power that they have? No. By no means. It just saddens me to hear young people, older people, whoever say very proudly that I don't vote, because it don't make a difference, whatever reason. And the thing is that it's so sad about it, not only that people give their lives so that we could vote and have that option. But the fact of the matter is the reason why it doesn't make any difference is because we don't participate not in the numbers that we have in this country. And as long as we don't, we will continue to struggle and barely make it and continue to be handed the leftovers because the fact
of the matter is as long as we are in this country and we're not going to be a violent revolution, it's going to change things. It's just not going to happen in 1980. It's just as simple as that. We never had the power in terms of any kind of violent confrontation. So that's even foolish to even begin to talk about it. So if indeed you're going to talk about making some real change, that means that you have to become involved in the process and get in and begin to change it from the ground up. In the only way we can get in is to participate in the traditional political system. Where we have done that, there has been a great deal of progress. Atlanta, Georgia is one place in particular, even though we're having the problems that we're having. Now with children in terms of power in that community and a real kind of sharing, it exists very strongly. And part of the reason why
is because we have participated in the traditional political system and there are people on all levels representing us and representing our best interests. Do you find young black Americans concerned themselves with civil rights and black history? Unfortunately, no. I congressman Walter Feintroy from the District of Columbia has a saying that I like a whole lot. He talks about us as young blacks being able to talk that talk, so we don't walk that walk. And it's true, we can talk and we are very articulate, probably even more so in 1980 than ever before. But the fact of the matter is that we are not following that with any kind of active commitment. We are still very much into a kind of individualism and a kind of acceptance and escapism that is a constant source of frustration for me
as a young black person trying and hoping to motivate people, particularly young people. And also because of the fact that the matter is that if indeed we are not there to pick up the baton and keep it moving, then everything that people have suffered and died for will be lost and it will be our fault. I think part of what has happened is because of the fact that young people in my generation have not had to struggle as our parents did. They don't have really a conception of what it means. Certainly racism still exists and they have to deal with it in many forms. But it is just not as blatant, it is not as overt. And so there is a very easy kind of tendency. It's very easy to just say, well, it's all right and I can get mine and it will be as long as I do okay, it will be all right. And not to worry about the masses of folk and not to be concerned about the very real issue that indeed, if
we do not stay vigilant, everything that we have won and fought for and won can very easily and very quickly be taken from us. Do you find our blacks accountable to the black constituents? Well, certainly they are some and they are all over this country. They are others that aren't. I think that you will always find that. Just because we happen to be put in those positions does not mean that we will always do the job that we are elected to do. We have the same kinds of foibles and problems and kind of inconsistencies and any other grace of people have. But I know that there are people all over the country that are in terms of their integrity, in terms of their commitment, in terms of the
energy that they devote to trying to make a difference and to really use that office and that arena as a way of helping people, of changing, of bringing about social change, there are people all over this country. So that is part of the reason why I believe in the system, if we can get more folk like that, all over, then again we will begin to see some real change in this country. Should Americans, particularly black Americans, concern themselves with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan? Well, yes, of course we really, it's imperative that we don't see it just as something that is happening because whatever. I don't know what the various reasons people may be giving to it. I think we must first of all realize that when there are economic problems in the country, because of the
clever manipulation that has been, that has been a constant in this country, the manipulation of black versus white and the middle class against the lower class, economically speaking, that, but what will happen is that when the country is in a crunch, then the white reactionary, still racist elements will of course blame it on us and then you will have an emergence, re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. So we have to understand that and work against the kind of conditioning that has gone on in this country. And it's a difficult process because it's in grain now and it's been like that for centuries. But we have to begin to try to redirect some of that energy and to correct the lies that have been spirit that have kept us fighting for nothing, fighting over scraps. I mean, that's really
what it boils down to it. It's not any real power. But we must be concerned and we must not deal with it simply from a hostile viewpoint that they are doing this and they are terrorizing us and so forth and so on. But to use as well to inform that response, whatever it may be to it and understanding of why indeed, it happens and it will continue to happen as long as we are pitted against each other as we are. If the problems that happened in Miami last year, do you see a return of street violence civil disordered that we had in the 60s? Well, I think it's a real possibility. I was speaking to someone recently who is from Miami works very closely with that community who feels like any day now it could happen again. That nothing has changed. It did not make a bit of difference primarily because even though the violence, the confrontation
happened, there was not an organized kind of effort that came out of it. So it was really just a kind of getting off a lot of frustrations and not anything that was positive or helpful and which is often the fact in those kinds of violent confrontations. And I think it's a real possibility. I think things are going to get tighter in the country economically. And it's definitely going to get worse before it gets better. And as a result, I think people are going to out of their own sense of despair and hopelessness and frustration. There's a possibility that there will be more of that. My hope is that before that happens that we, people, various leaders and local communities can begin to organize that frustration into something that will be positive, something that will result in some growth as opposed
to just a frustrated effort that ends in a lot of wasted lives and wasted property and no real benefit. Do you think there's a void of national black leadership? Not really. I think that what is unfortunately the problem is that we as black people have a tendency to wait and see what's going to happen to wait and for someone else to come along and stand up for us. I don't know if that's peculiar only to black people. I think that may be the case with people generally. Most folks don't want to put themselves on the line. It's as simple as that. And so we wait around for somebody else to come along and do it for us. I think that there are people who are in leadership, nationally known leadership positions that are doing what they can and they are serving various needs. There's not one person who, as my father, who's able to embody at all
and to bring everybody together, but there are people who are doing specific jobs and serving a need. The problem is that we as individuals are doing nothing and more instances are not. And that's where the problem is. I don't think it's the leadership. I think it's on the bottom and the fact that people in their communities, local communities are sitting back and waiting for something to happen. And when you do that, unfortunately, that what happens is that you do something desperate because of, in reaction to whatever happens. And it's not always organized and it is not always helpful or beneficial. So my hope and part of my message is that if indeed anything is going to happen, it's going to be, it's going to be individuals who say, okay, I can't do everything. I cannot be a Martin Luther King Jr. I cannot be whoever, but there is something that I can do. And
I'm going to do it. If it means taking a risk on my job, when I see something going on, discrimination, whatever it be, I'm going to say something about it. I'm not going to sit back and let it continue to happen. If it is something in schools, as young people, when they're in justices going on, when they are needs that are not being addressed, young people to organize themselves and say, look, this is what we need. We pay tuition here. And this is as a result of that, we deserve whatever, this, that, and so. Because we must remember, it was not the good will of President Johnson or President Kennedy that gave us the civil rights bill and the voting rights act. It was because people put their lives on the line and got into streets. And that's what made the difference. It was not because people said, oh, where is time for to do right by these black people. It was because folks demanded it and they got it. Are you satisfied with the investigation into your father's
death? Well, I don't do a whole lot of thinking about it very honestly. I would like to, I do believe that, that it was not the act of just one person, that there was some kind of conspiracy. I don't know if it was the government or the CIA or whatever theory people have. I know that there was a climate in this country that certainly contributed to it and, and which was perpetuated by the reactionary forces that exist. And, and I would like for the truth to come out. And I know that the truth is more than a single individual. One last question, Yolanda. Why is it becoming so difficult to make your father's birthday a national holiday? Well, part of it is the, is the fact that people are able to use a convenient excuse that we are undergoing the most severe inflation that we have ever had to experience as a nation in that it is inflationary, which
is actually just an excuse for the fact that, to, to accept that, to make that move is, it is still very revolutionary in this country. And there is still a large number of people who feels to this day that my daddy was a communist, that he was a troublemaker. And, and those, those folks were doing just fine till he came and stirred him up. And, and as long as that exists, it's going to continue to be a problem. But I think, I really do believe that it's, I know it's going to happen. But, and it may be more difficult with the president administration. But I think that as a result of what Stevie Wonder has done, as a result of, of, of what people are doing all over this country and their various communities, it's going to make a difference. We've got to impact on our various Congress persons, our senators, just to sign a petition or to march is not enough. The people who make
the final ultimate decision are the ones that we have to touch base with. We happen to see them on an elevator and a bill didn't say, look, how you're doing, Senator, whatever look, I'm, that bill is coming up and I want you to vote for it. I'm in your district, whatever the case may be. And, if you want my vote, then you vote for this. And I'm teasing, but seriously, that is the kind of direct contact that we are going to have to have with, our legislators. And, and that's really what's going to make the difference. My fear very honestly is that once we get it, people say, oh, we got a holiday and then we go to the beach and go to parties and whatever. And that won't mean a thing. And so what I say and what's Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which is based in Atlanta, my mother's president, adheres to is that this will not just be a holiday on a place for us to, a time for us to just have a free day off from work and go off and do a lot of miscellaneous things that are not helpful, but that it will be, all over the country, will be a day when
people take time to stop, to affirm the principles that he stood for and to, to come together and hopefully as a result, to use that as a springboard, to inspire us and to motivate us to continue doing the work that he gave his life for. That was Yolanda King, actress, teacher, and daughter of the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm John D. Hanson. Join us next week. You've been listening to In Black America, discussions of the Black experience and contemporary American society. Cassette copies of this program are available and may be obtained by writing in Black America, Communication Center, University of Texas at Austin, ZIP 78712. In Black America is produced by Public Station KUTFN and distributed by Communication Center. Opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect the views of the University
of Texas at Austin. This is The Longhorn Radio Network.
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Guest: Yolanda King
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- Chicago: “In Black America; Yolanda King: Understanding The Black Struggle,” 1981-02-26, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-xk84j0cd8p.
- MLA: “In Black America; Yolanda King: Understanding The Black Struggle.” 1981-02-26. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-xk84j0cd8p>.
- APA: In Black America; Yolanda King: Understanding The Black Struggle. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-xk84j0cd8p