ATLANTA – Martin Luther King III sits in his living room on a recent Thursday afternoon, surrounded by lush decor and wearing a dark suit. Propped on a shelf behind him is an enlarged portrait of three generations of Kings: himself as a boy, his grandfather and his father, Martin Luther King Jr.
At 62, King III is now nearly a quarter-century older than his father was when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, gunned down on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39.
King Jr.’s eldest son speaks with an eloquence and passion reminiscent of the civil rights icon, whose powerful speeches and sermons are synonymous with the nation’s nascent movement in the 1950s and ’60s. He talks of how his personal loss also was a profound one for the course of history.
“Had he lived, we would be in a dramatically different place,” King III said in an interview with USA TODAY at his home in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead community. “We probably would have resolved racism.”
As the nation pauses Monday to honor King Jr.’s life and legacy, King III says his father’s work toward peace and equality remains unfinished. The country has yet to overcome voter suppression, disparities in housing and education, poverty, police brutality and many other injustices faced by people of color.
A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in 2018 revealed that only 1 in 10 African Americans believed the United States had achieved all or most of the goals of the civil rights movement.