COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Rev. Joel King Jr. was 17 years old and living with his grandparents in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1968 while his older cousin, Martin Luther King Jr., was making headlines as a leader in the civil rights movement.
Their fathers were brothers.
“That’s Daddy King and that’s my father,” Joel King Jr says pointing to a photograph in the book “Daddy King,” an autobiography of Martin Luther King Sr.
Rev. Joel King Jr., a resident of Gahanna, will be one of the speakers for an event at the Statehouse this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “MLK50: Legacy of Love in Pursuit of Justice” will be held at noon, Wednesday, April 4 in the Ohio Statehouse Atrium.
Rev. King says he was mopping floors at a Spartanburg cafeteria the night his cousin was shot and killed outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.”It was a sad occasion all over Spartanburg at the time – all over the nation because the king of love was dead,” King said. “So what do you do as a country if you kill the man who tried to tell you how to love one another? Where do you go from there?”
Joel King believes his cousin would be disappointed that the country remains so divided over issues including voter suppression and police brutality and income inequality. But, he says the mobilization of young people after the school shooting in Parkland Florida gives him renewed hope. “When I saw that I said, ‘Martin you’re still living’. Because of how… it took the kids in ‘62 and ‘63 to change the civil rights movement – it’s going to take the kids in our country to change the political mindset of people in Washington,” King said.
Rev. King says even on the day he was assassinated, his cousin Martin had warned that there would be difficult days ahead. “And I guess he was talking about the days we see now,” King said his message Wednesday will be to encourage people to continue the struggle and keep working for change.
In addition to the event at the Statehouse, local churches are being encouraged to toll their bells 39 times at 7:01 pm Wednesday to reflect Dr. King’s age at the time he was shot.