Dexter's Dream: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Son Tells of His Personal Desires and Outlines Provocative Plans for the Future of the King Center

Ebony, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Dexter's Dream: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Son Tells of His Personal Desires and Outlines Provocative Plans for the Future of the King Center


He could have been a preacher or a politician. He could have been a professor or an activist leading millions to march on Washington. Dexter King, son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., could have been any of these and not raised an eyebrow. Or he could have been nothing in particular and lived comfortably off his famous name. The Kings, after all, are Black America's royal family, and Dexter is perhaps the closest reminder of his immortal father.

But Dexter, who is approaching his second year as chairman, president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, has never been one to fall in line and do what people expect the son of The Dreamer to do. He calls himself "multifaceted," a trait that may have led him to resign the top position at the King Center in 1989 amid rumors of disagreements with his mother and the Center's board over managerial styles.

While he says he's still the same person today as he was then, he now better understands how to satisfy those who have certain expectations of him, and at the same time stick to his principles and pursue his dreams. "I have been challenged in the past because people don't always understand me," he says. "I've always been my own man, my own person. I haven't done too much of anything that did not fit me. I've always tried to tailor situations to fit me."

In this stage of his life, heading the King Center is a perfect fit for Dexter. The 35-year-old second youngest of the four King siblings says he reassumed his position - a position he accepted with the approval of his mother Coretta Scott King, who founded the Atlanta facility in 1968 - in part, because he felt his youth and organizational skills were needed to find the most effective way to bring his father's legacy and message of constructive social change into the 21st century. He believes everyone has a calling and this is his, a calling that has less to do with civil rights and more with his desire to educate a generation that views the Civil Rights Movement as being so ancient that, to them, it might as well be the Civil War.

Dexter realized that his father's message had to be repackaged one day when he sat at his desk, looking out of his window at his father's crypt and the surrounding reflecting pool. He noticed a family; the parents seemed engrossed by scene and the inscription on Dr. King's tomb - "Free at Last, Free at Last. Thank God, Almighty, I'm Free at Last."

However, the kids "were playing in the water," Dexter says. "I realized then that the Center was too static . . . We needed to give it a new face because a lot of children don't know the relevance Dr. King has to them," Dexter says. "If they don't get it, we run the chance of the message being lost forever."

It didn't take long for Dexter to realize that the only way to get children turned on to his fathers message and to ensure that the King legacy would live on for generations would be to dramatically redesign The King Center. …

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