ATLANTA . . . King Center CEO, Dr. Bernice A. King, announced today the Center will commemorate the 88th birthday of the institution’s founder, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, on Monday, April 27, 2015, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Freedom Hall Auditorium. As part of this observance, the Center will feature a special conversation entitled “Mothers in the Movement: From a Daughter’s Perspective.” Joining Ms. King for the dialogue will be Ms. Santita Jackson, Ms. Cheryl Lowery, Mrs. Elisabeth Omilami, and Ms. Andrea Young. 11 Alive’s Brenda Wood will moderate the conversation.
Women were crucial to the success of what the historian Peniel Joseph refers to as the “Modern Black Freedom Struggle.” Without the commitment of women, the male-dominated campaign for equality that began in the late 1950s and culminated in the 1960s would have had a very different outcome. “Women,” says Ms. King, “wore several hats as the wives who not only supported their husbands’ involvement in the Movement, but who also maintained the home and cared for the children while subordinating their own professional interests. It is imperative that we never lose sight of the fact that these wives and mothers shared the sacrifices known only to God and their families.” Moreover, says King, these women had to have the “wit, will, and wherewithal to withstand the tremendous responsibilities and pressures of being black, female, mothers, and wives to husbands who were constantly exposed to mortal danger…Yet, they were the cohesive force that kept the familial fabric from tattering at the seams.” These wives and mothers were not the traditional homemakers. Some of these women were also very active in the fight for equal rights both alongside their husbands and sometimes beyond the lives of them.
Several daughters whose mothers were married to the men who stood at the center of the movement’s leadership will participate in the discussion. Ms. Donzaleigh Abernathy, the daughter of Rev. Ralph and Mrs. Juanita Abernathy, will share her insight relative to her mother’s strength and courage as a result of her father’s participation in the movement. Rev. Abernathy worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 and succeeded Dr. King as the organization’s second president in 1968 after the Nobel Laureate was assassinated. Rev. Abernathy remained in that position until 1977.
Ms. Santita Jackson, the daughter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mrs. Jacqueline Jackson, will discuss her mother. Mrs. Jackson was a devoted wife and mother during the movement. Three of her five children were born between 1963-1966 -- three of the most tumultuous years of the freedom struggle. Her father began working with the Southern Christian leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1964, laying the groundwork for a major campaign in Chicago, Illinois. He assumed the leadership of the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket two years later. Rev. Jackson worked alongside Dr. King until 1968.
Ms. Cheryl Lowery, the daughter of Rev. Joseph and Mrs. Evelyn Lowery, will also give fresh insight into her mother’s commitment to the home and the movement. Her father, Rev. Lowery, was a co-founder of the SCLC, serving as its board chairman and president. Mrs. Evelyn Lowery did not rest on her husband’s laurels. After the classical phase of the movement, she founded the SCLC Women in 1979 as a volunteer agency to assist in a wide variety of social causes.
Dr. Bernice A. King, the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, will speak to the role of her mother’s work alongside her father and ultimately her commitment to building The King Center in a very contentious environment. Of the mothers highlighted in this program, Mrs. King was the only wife who was widowed because of her husband’s role in the movement, raising their four children alone while serving as the architect of the King legacy. An anomalous figure, Mrs. King was an activist in the peace movement before marrying her husband. Though her first responsibility was the rearing of her children, she was still an active partner in the movement he led.
Mrs. Elisabeth Omilami, daughter of the Rev. Hosea L. Williams and Mrs. Juanita “Nit” Terry Williams, will speak to her mother’s role as caregiver and civil rights activist in her own right. Mrs. Williams, in 1961, became one of the first black women to run for statewide office since Reconstruction when she sought the Chatham County Superior Court’s clerkship. In 1985, she was elected to the Georgia General Assembly as the representative for House District 54. Her father began his civil rights activism around 1953 as a member of the Savannah Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and later as founder of the Chatham County Crusade for Voters (CCCV) --the organization’s political arm. He later served as the SCLC’s Director of Voter Registration and Political Education, as well as the organization’s Executive Director. His introduction of the night marches in the Savannah, and later during the SCLC-led demonstrations culminated in substantive gains in the areas of civil and voting rights. Her father also founded “Hosea’s Feed the Hungry” initiative in 1971. Three years later, he was elected to the Georgia General Assembly where he represented House District 54 until 1985. After serving as a state legislator, he was subsequently elected in 1986 to serve on the Atlanta City Council from District 5, where he served until 1990. Williams was also elected to the Dekalb County Commission, representing District 3 from 1991-1994.
Ms. Andrea Young, daughter of Ambassador Andrew Young and Mrs. Jean Childs Young, will provide first-hand commentary regarding her mother. Mrs. Young also played an important role in the movement. An educator by training, she developed the curriculum for the SCLC’s Citizenship Schools in the early 1960s and continued her advocacy for the marginalized in the area of education and children’s causes after the movement ended. During her husband’s tenure as mayor, Mrs. Jean Childs Young founded the Mayor’s Task Force on Public Education. Her father began his activist crusade in the 1950s while working with the National Council of Churches’ Youth Department. In 1961, he began working with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and that institution’s Citizenship Training Program. Once the school closed, Young aligned with Dr. King and the SCLC later that same year. King promoted Young to the position of Executive Director in 1964 shortly before the beginning of SCLC’s participation in the protests in St. Augustine. Four years after King was assassinated, he was elected to the United States Congress from Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, serving three terms before being appointed Ambassador to the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, Young was elected to the first of two consecutive terms as mayor of Atlanta, Georgia.
The program is free and open to the public. The event will be streamed live and can be accessed on the Center’s website at www.thekingcenter.org. For more information, please call (404) 526-8961.