Black History Month

Bernice King's Tweet About Her Dad Reminds Us That Social Change Is Often Controversial At First

"At the time Daddy was killed, a poll reflected that he was the most hated man in America."

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Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, was just five years old when her father was assassinated, but she has managed to help keep his legacy alive via The King Center — an organization dedicated to educating the world on the life, legacy and teachings of Dr. King — and a series ofastute observations she has made about her father's lifeon social media. 

On Feb. 24, for example, King refuted the notion that her father "didn't offend people" after someone on Twitter suggested that was the case. "At the time Daddy was killed, a poll reflected that he was the most hated man in America. Most hated," she explained. "Many who quote him now & use him to deter justice would likely hate him too if they truly studied #MLK."

The poll King is likely referring to was a 1966 Gallup poll, which, according to Newsweek, found that almost two-thirds of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Dr. King and a third had a positive opinion, a 26 point unfavorable rate increase from 1963. Other Gallup polls from that era show the only person more despised than King was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.


By reminding us that her father was a controversial figure at the time of his death in 1968, Bernice King highlights that her father continued to fight for justice despite popular opinion.

"He was not searching for popularity," Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute at Stanford, told Newsweek of King. "What he was trying to put forward was what he thought was the right course of action."

In a subsequent tweet, Bernice King added, "People were offended by him speaking truth to power, calling attention to and engaging nonviolence to end racism, war and poverty. In fact, his 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' was in response to clergy who called him an 'outside agitator.'"

Though today Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most respected figures in American history, his daughter's tweet illustrates that movements calling for change and justice (along with those who lead them) are often very unpopular in the time that they occur. If everyone agreed on the social changes needed, activists like King wouldn't have had to move mountains to accomplish them.

Subsequent movements advocating for change and justice in America have actually followed a similar pattern. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that back in 2001 Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent, but as of June 2017, 62 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 32 percent oppose it.

As King illustrated in her tweets, pushes for social change are often unpopular at first, before becoming accepted and celebrated as necessary and heroic. And, considering recent controversies over football players kneeling in peaceful protest of police brutality, that may be well worth keeping in mind.

Cover image via Joseph Sohm /


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