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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a towering figure in the civil rights movement and the fight for racial equality, but he was also a big kid at heart who would be both impressed and sad about the path America has taken nearly 45 years after his death.
Monday is the federal holiday honoring Dr. King, who would now be 84 years old if he were alive today. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968. In connection with her uncle's birthday, Angela Farris Watkins is releasing a new book of family memories titled, "Martin Luther King, Jr.: A King Family Tribute." Watkins is the daughter of King's sister, Willie Christine King.
Watkins spoke at length about her childhood memories about Dr. King, but she also explained how her uncle would look upon the 45 years since his death with mixed emotions.
"I think he would be very proud of the progress that we've made, but he would also be very saddened by the prevalence of violence," Watkins told WND. "He would want to continue writing, speaking, preaching about the power of nonviolence and the power of infusing love into our society and how much more power that offers us. I think he would have mixed emotions, again some pride but also wanting to push us forward to be better."
Watkins said her new book is meant to put a more human face on her uncle, who is often limited by history books to one aspect of his life. Watkins said Dr. King was very unremarkable in many ways but had very strong character when it mattered most.
"It becomes important for us to understand who he was as a human being, to know that he really was a regular guy, that there was really nothing special about him as a person other than that he had a willingness and a commitment to make the sacrifices and provide the leadership that was necessary to effect that level of change," Watkins said.
The book is a collection of reflections on Dr. King by many different family members. Watkins has young but very vivid memories of her famous uncle.
"I had about four years with him," she said. "He came over to my house for regular visits. For me, he was somewhat of an adult playmate, and I have some very fond and vivid memories of our time together."
But her work on the book also led her to some discoveries into Dr. King's strategies of combating violence, including his overture to the psychology community.
"I happened upon a speech that he gave to the American Psychological Association, where he charged psychologists with expanding the mission of psychology toward liberation and directing people to guard their behavior in a way that would be nonviolent," Watkins said. "What we see as his philosophy of nonviolence can really be considered as a really wonderful behavioral approach to our own personal issues as well as societal issues."
Most of all however, Watkins wants Americans and others around the world, to know Dr. King was a regular guy with a big heart.
"It really is important that his family takes the responsibility for making sure that everyone knows that he really was an ordinary person and that he loved his family and his family loved him back," said Watkins.