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Bernice King, MLK’s Daughter, Reflects on the Legacy of the March on Washington

On the 60th anniversary of the historic 1963 march, King ponders its impact and relevance


Video: MLK’s Daughter Revisits the March on Washington

It was 60 years ago that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered his remarkable “I Have a Dream” speech, sharing the hopes he had for his “four little children” to live in a more just and equitable nation.

The youngest of the four, Bernice King, 60, was only 5 months old when more than 250,000 people flooded the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was the largest gathering for civil rights of its time.​

She was too young to remember the event itself, but “the most memorable thing I heard about that particular mass demonstration,” King tells AARP, “ … is that they were kind of apprehensive about whether or not people would show up.” She says her mother, Coretta Scott King — whom she calls “the architect of the King legacy” — shared that they were anticipating around 25,000 people at the peaceful protest.​

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In Their Words: Participants Look Back on the March on Washington

Bernice King is CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, or the King Center, which was established by her mother in 1968, the year her father was assassinated. ​

King carries the legacy of nonviolence and that sense of purpose and mission demonstrated in the March on Washington through her work at the King Center. The center offers education, training, research and advocacy based on the philosophy of nonviolence with the goal of bringing about social change, just as its practice did 60 years ago. ​

“People don’t realize that a lot of the things that we are benefitting from today is a result of that massive march and demonstration, which was a part of a greater strategy,” King says. 

And that strategy involved fighting for more than just the notable Civil Rights Act, which prohibited racial segregation in many areas of American life. According to the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, access to public accommodations, such as housing and education, as well as voter protections, a federal works program and fair employment practices were also part of the fight. While the march and the civil rights movement may seem to belong to the distant past, the foundation of activism still rings relevant. 

“As part of [the civil rights groups’] demands, they were asking for a $2 minimum wage. If you hear today people saying $15, well $2 at that time translated to today is $17, so we’re far behind,” King says. (The federal minimum wage was last raised in 2009 and remains at $7.25 per hour, but 26 states and Washington, D.C., have minimum wages higher than the federal rate.) ​

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She hopes that through the study of nonviolence and the positive changes that came from it during the peak of the civil rights movement, “people can begin to see similar things happen in our nation today for the causes that we need to make changes around.” ​

Continuing the work of her parents, King says she’s motivated by her faith, friendships and the past. ​

“I’m inspired by history. There are those who came before us, our ancestors … they had to face some dark and difficult times,” King says. “We as a humanity have made it through some real difficult challenges. ... But we are a part of who they were, and so it’s in us and we shall overcome too.” 

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