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Memorial Service Set for Yolanda King
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 5/16/2007

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Yolanda Denise King, daughter and first-born child of the late civil rights leaders the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, has died in Santa Monica, Calif. Her death, late Tuesday night, has shocked the civil rights community. She was 51.

King, an actress and inspirational speaker, will be memorialized on Thursday, May 24th, at 12 noon, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where her father pastored until he was assassinated in 1968. Family members have confirmed that she will be cremated by her own request.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who conversed with her only three weeks ago, issued a statement, calling the news of the death, ''stunning and shocking to me personally and to people around this nation and world. Yolanda was the torch bearer for her parents and a committed activist in her own right.

We spent time together just three weeks ago and we often talked about how as a baby she was in the house when her father and mother were bombed in Montgomery, Alabama, in the beginning of the civil rights movement,'' Sharpton says. ''I spoke in the pre-dawn hours to Martin Luther King, III to share my and others' condolences, and I call on all to stand with this family in another moment of grief and to continue to uphold the legacy and principles of the King family.

Yolanda never wavered from a commitment to non-violent social change and justice for all. She was the first daughter of the civil rights movement and never shamed her parents or her co-activists. As an artist and activist she refused roles that would belittle her family name and tradition. We will miss her greatly.”

The three surviving King siblings the Rev. Bernice A. King, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, said they were not certain of the cause of death and speculated that it may have been a heart problem.

She was an inspirational speaker and actress, who appeared in numerous films and played Rosa Parks in the 1978 miniseries ''King.''

A. Peter Bailey, then associate director of the Black Theatre Alliance, in 1979, recalls introducing Yolanda King to Attallah Shabazz, the oldest of the six daughters of Malcolm X.

''Attallah set aside two tickets for Yolanda to come by the Richard Allen Center, where Attallah was performing in a play. From that friendship they formed their own theatre, called the Nucleus,'' he said.

''I remember her as being very, very businesslike,'' says Bailey. ''They were very aware that they were their father's daughters. They had to be very concerned about that, even about the roles they played and that kind of thing. There was almost a sadness.''

Yolanda King was Born on Nov. 17, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., only weeks before the Montgomery bus boycott began on Dec. 1, 1955, the event that would thrust her father into the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.

Yolanda King, whose death comes more than a year after her mother's, was also an author and civil rights activist in her own right.

On the birthday of her father, in a 2002 speech at predominately White Penn State University, she told students, “I advocate that any university that’s really serious about moving their student body, as well as helping to move the country forward in terms of race relations, should really institute a required course for all students to take that focuses on diversity.''

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