ATLANTA (AP) — Christine King Farris, the last living sibling of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has died.
Her niece, the Rev. Bernice King, tweeted that her “beloved aunt” died Thursday. She was 95.
For decades after her brother’s assassination in 1968, Farris worked along with his widow, Coretta Scott King, to preserve and promote his legacy. But unlike her high-profile sister-in-law, Farris’ activism — and grief — was often behind the scenes.
“She may not have always been on the line of the march, but that was true with a lot of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Marcellus Barksdale, a history professor at Morehouse College, of Farris in a 2009 interview with The Associated Press. “Because of the luminescence of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King, Christine kind of got dimmed by that, but she was no less important.”
Farris was born Willie Christine King on Sept. 11, 1927, in Atlanta. She was the first child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Christine Williams King.
Farris helped Coretta Scott King build The King Center and helped to teach Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. For years, her regal, dignified presence was a mainstay at the ecumenical service celebrating her brother’s birthday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her grandfather and father also preached and where Farris remained a member.
The King Center tweeted Thursday that it mourns the loss of Farris, a founding board member, former vice-chair and treasurer, along with a photo of her.
Bernice King tweeted a photo of herself with Farris, writing, “I love you and will miss you, Aunt Christine.”
Martin Luther King III tweeted that he, his wife and his daughter had been able to spend time with his aunt in her final days.
“Aunt Christine embodied what it meant to be a public servant. Like my dad, she spent her life fighting for equality and against racism in America,” he tweeted. “She defied the odds that held back too many marginalized communities – going on to become a civil rights leader and acclaimed author. No stranger to adversity, Aunt Christine used the tragedies of the assassinations of her mother and brother to fight for change in America.”
Farris outlived many of the people she loved, including her parents, her two brothers, her sister-in-law and her niece, Yolanda. She graduated from Spelman College in 1948 with a degree in economics on the same day Martin Luther King Jr. earned his degree in sociology from Morehouse College.
A decade later, Farris returned to Spelman, where she worked for more than 50 years. In 1960, she married Isaac Newton Farris. The couple had two children, Angela Christine Farris Watkins and Isaac Newton Farris Jr.
“Our hearts are heavy in Atlanta today, with the news that Christine King Farris has died,” Mayor Andre Dickens said in a statement.
“Mrs. Farris was a force in her own right,” Dickens said. “A champion of literacy and education, she taught at her alma mater, Spelman College, for nearly 50 years. As the last of the King siblings, she spent much of her life advocating for equality. She once said that her brother Martin simply gave us the blueprint, but it was our duty ‘to carry it out.’”
Farris wrote two children’s books about her life, “My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” and “March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World.” In 2009, she wrote a memoir, “Through It All: Reflections on My Life, My Family and My Faith.”
Farris often shared stories about her brother as a normal child and young man to make him and his achievements more accessible to people.
“They think he simply happened, that he appeared fully formed, without context, ready to change the world,” she said.