The youngest child of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, Bernice was born 28 March 1963. Mirroring her father’s induction to the church at an early age, Bernice was called to the ministry when she was seventeen: “I think that in a sense my calling to the ministry will be the perpetuation of the flame, the spirit of my father living on” (Norment, “The King Family”). She graduated from Spelman College with a BA in psychology in 1985, and went on to earn a JD and Master of Divinity from Emory University in 1990. On 27 March 1988 she delivered her first sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church of her father and grandfather. She was ordained as a minister in 1990, and after serving as assistant minister at Ebenezer from 1990 to 1993, she began serving as a minister at Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Atlanta. She was impressed by the community programs of the church, and in 1995 became senior pastor in charge of the youth and women’s ministries. In 1996 she published a collection of her addresses, Hard Questions, Heart Answers: Sermons and Speeches.
The only child of Martin Luther King, Jr., to take up the ministry as a profession, Bernice has often been compared to her father. Andrew Young alleged that watching Bernice “makes you believe preaching is hereditary” (Cleage, “Bernice King Carries It On”). Bernice, however, has her own goals. Employing her legal background, she has consulted with youth, especially those in trouble. Although she has spoken out against war in the Persian Gulf and addressed sexism in churches, her approach leans toward a more personal, intimate ministry than a social, political gospel.
Pearl Cleage, “Bernice King Carries It On,” Essence, January 1989.
Lynn Norment, “The King Family: Keepers of the Dream,” Ebony, January 1987.