She will be missed by many but her advocacy for the poor will be remembered forever as will her spirit for life and equity for all. As an avid supporter of Gay rights, Yolanda King was not always placed in the forefront of the media like other King family members for their stance on this issue.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, two weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus and triggered the movement that ultimately desegregated the South, Yolanda King had been in the midst of the struggle for human rights all of her life. The first-born child of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Yolanda participated in numerous civil and human rights demonstrations and spoke before countless religious, educational, civic and human rights groups.
At the age of eight, Ms. King wrote a play in which she directed her reluctant siblings and subsequently performed for her parents and friends. By the age of twelve, she had choreographed two musicals and directed several theatrical productions. These early initiatives began a career in the performing arts, which led her to The Actor’s and Writer’s Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia, where she studied theatre and appeared in productions in the Atlanta area.
After graduating from Henry Grady High School in the top 10% of her class, she continued her education at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, receiving a B.A. degree with honors in Theatre and African-American Studies. While at Smith, she co-directed the Student Theatre Workshop and portrayed a wide diversity of characters in productions both at Smith and the surrounding area. She then moved on to New York where she obtained a M.F.A. in Theatre at New York University and directed and performed in productions in New York and the Tri-State area.
She considered herself an artist-communicator who is committed to using her talents to affect social and personal change. Ms. King combined her involvement with human rights organizations and causes with her artistic pursuits. As she explained, “While it is imperative to actively challenge the forces that deny human beings their right to a decent life . . . one must also stimulate and impact the hearts and minds of both the privileged as well as those who have been too long denied. Within the arts lies this power.”
Her career reflected this belief. In addition to working with a number of human rights organizations and causes, Ms. King was a founding member of Christian Theatre Artists and for ten years she served as Co-Founding Director of NUCLEUS, (a company of performing artists dedicated to promoting positive energy through the arts) with Attallah Shabazz, the eldest child of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz.
In 1990, she formed Higher Ground Productions. Its first project was “TRACKS,” a multimedia theatrical production celebrating the philosophy of Dr. King. This one woman show featuring Ms. King portraying sixteen characters, toured the country for four years. Higher Ground Productions’ most recent project, “Achieving The Dream,” premiered during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia and is currently being performed around the country.
As a seasoned and respected actress, many of Ms. King’s stage, television and film credits reflected her interest in social change and include portrayals of Rosa Parks in the NBC-TV movie “King” with Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson; of Dr. Betty Shabazz in the feature film “Death of A Prophet” with Morgan Freeman; and of Medgar and Myrlie Evers’ daughter Reena in Rob Reiner’s Golden Globe nominated film “Ghosts of Mississippi.” Her performance as Mrs. Crawford in the HBO Special “America’s Dream: The Boy Who Painted Christ Black” contributed toward five Cable Ace Awards and the N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for Best Television Movie or Mini-Series.
For three years, Ms. King served as a Visiting Professor, teaching in the Theater Department at Fordham University in New York City. At Fordham, she directed and portrayed the role of Mama in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Her most recent film projects brought her together with some of Hollywood’s famed actors: “The Secret Path” with Della Reese and Ossie Davis; “Funny Valentines” with Alfre Woodard; and “Selma, Lord, Selma” with Jurnee Smollett for ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney.” Presently, Ms. King maintains an active schedule speaking and performing throughout the United States and Europe, while working on theatre and film production projects from her home in Los Angeles, California.
She recently made her Television Series debut playing Judge Esther Green in the hit CBS series “JAG”. She is most proud of her portrayal of Odessa in the short feature film, “Odessa”, currently being considered for Academy Award nomination.
Ms. King was honored with numerous presentations, awards and citations by organizations around the country and was named to Outstanding Young Women of America. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. (the official national memorial to Dr. King) and was founding Director of the King Center’s Cultural Affairs Program. She served as Honorary Co-Chair of the Memorial to Our Lost Children and was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Partnership Council of Habitat for Humanity, a sponsor of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and holds a lifetime membership in the N.A.A.C.P.