To the world, Martin Luther King Jr.will be remembered as an influential and inspirational civil rights leader.
But to Christine King Ferris he was Martin – her brother.
“He was just a person – a regular 'fella,'” Christine, 85, said. “He was always genuinely concerned for others even while we were growing up.”
And you know when you say critical that it is very serious. And I knew it. I knew it…I knew when he said critical – that meant death.
- Christine King Ferris, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Sister
On a Sunday, Morning February 4, 1968 Christine was singing in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia while her brother Martin preached his sermon from the pulpit.
“I was telling someone last night,” Christine said to Fox News Latino. “He really preached his own Eulogy on that Sunday Morning – he said ‘if anyone is around when I have to meet my day don’t tell them I received a number of degrees earned and honorary, don’t even say that I earned the noble peace prize. I want to be remembered as a drum major for justice,’ she recalled.
Dr. King had just given his famous sermon entitled 'Drum Major Instinct' in which he spoke, almost prophetically, about his own death –two months to the day before he would be assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
The sermon became legendary after his death, but for Christine who watched from the Choir behind him, it was a deeply personal moment.
“It was so moving. I had to just go out and shed a tear because it was so moving. It was so meaningful and powerful I just couldn’t take it. It was too much,” she said.
For the King Family, Ebenezer church was home to some of the most profound memories they have of Martin –in life and in death.
Angela Farris Watkins, 47, was just four years old in her favorite memory of Uncle Martin.
“After church he would stand in line to greet the members and would come up from the nursery and he would see me from behind the door and I would run down the aisle and he would pick me up and give me a big hug,” Angela said.
King’s own daughter Rev. Elder Bernice King, 48, spoke of how his kids affected him.
“He was very light hearted and it seemed as if when he got with us it lightened the load with him,” Elder King said.
On April 4, 1968 Christine was in her home in Atlanta, Georgia with her children. It was leading up to Easter and she was in the process of making her daughters Easter dresses.
Suddenly, while moving around the room – a voice.
We interrupt this program for an important announcement.
Christine was listening to the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC.
“'We have just been informed that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been shot in Memphis Tennessee, he was there working with the Garbage workers who were on strike'” Christine recalled the broadcast. “When I heard that I was just shocked, and he came back.”
We interrupt this program again to verify that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been shot and it is critical.
“And you know when you say critical that it is very serious. And I knew it. I knew it…I knew when he said critical – that meant death. I figured that and I was hoping against hope that it wasn’t. That he’d come back.”
King had died.
Five days later, at Ebenezer Church a 5-year-old Bernice layed on her mother’s, Coretta Scott King, lap for-warned about what she was about to experience.
“My mother had told me a few days before that you will see your father but he won’t be able to speak to you,” Elder King said to Fox News. “I remember lights, hot, cameras all over the place, my mother tried to explain to me what was going on but couldn’t do so - so much because of the sermon taking place.”
But then - a voice.
“And suddenly this voice booms out over the speakers and I’m looking for him,” she remembered. “So you could imagine a 5-year-old suddenly hearing the voice of her father.”
It was a time of great grief – but also a time of great resilience, lead by King’s wife and mother of his four children, Coretta Scott King.
“As soon as he left us we started working on the foundation in her [Coretta’s] home,” Christine said. “She was in the forefront of leading and constructing the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change.”
Christine was an economics major at the time and helped serve as treasurer for a foundation founded by Coretta the year of her husband's death.
Coretta passed away in January 2006, but her presence was palpable among the King women at the commemoration.
“She spearheaded the effort to establish the king center in Atlanta as the official living memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., and then went on to champion a national holiday commemorating our father’s birthday, and a host of other efforts; and so in many respects she paved the way and made it possible for the most hated man in America in 1968 to now being one of the most revered and loved men in the world," Elder King told the crowd Sunday.
“Thank you mama, for your dedication. Thank you mama for your sacrifice, and we as your children are glad that we were able to share our parents with the world so that we can be in a better place," she concluded.
While the world remembered and celebrated with the King family on Sunday, Christine spoke highly of her brother’s new memorial and hopes people will learn more about his practice and philosophy of non-violence first and foremost.
“I’m pleased the sculpture had a feel for what he looked like,” she explained but, “he would have said don’t do it for me. Whatever he did - he never did it seeking publicity and trying to be in the limelight.
“My father taught us not to be what he called 'chesty.'”
This story was originally published on October 17, 2011 in honor of the Commemoration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.