In a 1986 article in Ebony magazine, Christine King Farris described her brother Martin Luther King as “no saint, ordained as such at birth. Instead, he was an average and ordinary man, called by a God, in whom he had deep and abiding faith, to perform extraordinary deeds.” Farris added that “the best way each of us can celebrate Martin’s life” is to “join in the struggle for freedom, peace and justice” (Farris, “Young Martin”).
Born on 11 September 1927, in Atlanta, Georgia, Christine was the first child of Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Her brother Martin was born in 1929, and her younger brother, Alfred Daniel King, in 1930. The three siblings spent their early years in the home of their grandparents, A. D. Williams, who died in 1931, and Jennie Celeste Williams, who died a decade later. In her Ebony article, Christine recounted that Martin “got into his share of boyhood trouble” and found any excuse imaginable to get out of completing household chores. Christine’s decision to step forward during a church revival meeting became the stimulus for a decisive moment in her younger brother’s religious life. “My sister was the first one to join the church that morning,” Martin King would later write, “and after seeing her join I decided that I would not let her get ahead of me, so I was the next” (Papers 1:361).
Farris later traced her love of reading to the hours her aunt, Ida Worthem, spent reading to her and her brothers. This “laid the foundation” for her future as a reading professor (Farris, “Young Martin”). Farris received her BA in economics from Spelman College in 1948 on the same day King received his BA in sociology from Morehouse College. She then attended Columbia University Teacher’s College to pursue a master’s degree in the social foundations of education (1950) and a master’s in special education (1958). Farris planned to teach, but her initial applications with the Atlanta Board of Education were repeatedly denied. Her father recalled that she was qualified, but the board was angry because he had for 11 years struggled to equalize teacher salaries, “forcing white teachers to live on the same rates of pay blacks worked for” (King, Sr., 135). After King, Sr., called the mayor to intervene, Christine was welcomed to her first teaching position at W. H. Crogman Elementary School. She went on to become Associate Professor of Education at Spelman College followed by an appointment as an adjunct professor at Morehouse College and Atlanta University.
Farris married Isaac Newton Farris on 19 August 1960, and they had two children—Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., and Angela Christine Farris. In addition to focusing on her family and career, Farris was, for many years, vice chair and treasurer of the King Center. Farris has been active for several years in the International Reading Association and various church and civic organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Farris, Willie Christine King, “The Young Martin: From Childhood Through College,” Ebony, January 1986.
Farris, My Brother Martin, 2003.
Introduction, in Papers 1:26.
King, “An Autobiography of Religious Development,” 12 September 1950–22 November 1950, in Papers 1:359–363.
King, Sr., with Riley, Daddy King, 1980.