Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries
The eldest child of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, Yolanda was born 17 November 1955, less than a month before the launch of the Montgomery bus boycott. She and her mother were in the family home when it was bombed on 30 January 1956. The family moved to Atlanta in 1960 and Yolanda became immersed in the activities of her grandparents, aunts, and cousins. According to her father, by the age of six she was aware of the racism that surrounded her. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King recalled that he had to explain to Yolanda why she could not go to a new amusement park known as Funtown. He recounted the difficulty of seeing tears in Yolanda’s eyes when he told her that black children were not permitted in the park. Coretta Scott King described an incident in her autobiography that occurred when Yolanda was seven. Yolanda reportedly told her friends, “Look, all I want is just to be treated like a normal child” (Scott King, My Life, 211). Scott King wrote: “She had articulated, in her childish wisdom, exactly what Martin and I had in mind for our children” (My Life, 211).
Yolanda attended drama school and was active in sports and student council. She graduated from Smith College with a BA in theater and African-American studies in 1976, and received an MFA from New York University in 1979. For several years afterward, she collaborated with Attallah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, to produce and perform plays as the Nucleus Theatre Group. Yolanda then returned to Atlanta to direct cultural affairs for the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She served three years as Professor in Residence at Fordham University before moving to Los Angeles in 1990 to found Higher Ground Productions. With Higher Ground, she produced and starred in numerous productions, including “Tracts: A Celebration of the Triumph and Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Yolanda published several books, including Open My Eyes, Open My Soul (2003). She died on 15 May 2007.
King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.
(Scott) King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., 1969.