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Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter explains how people misuse her father's words

“If you're going to use his words, try to find the context of those words that he used them in," Bernice King told Jimmy Fallon.
/ Source: TODAY

As nationwide protests over racial injustice continue in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter says some of her father's frequently revisited words about race and civil rights are sometimes misunderstood.

Bernice King, who is CEO of The King Center in Atlanta, told Jimmy Fallon on Thursday's "Tonight Show" that people might be missing the messages behind his famous quotations.

"In '68 my father was one of the most hated men in America, and now he's one of the most loved men in the world," she said. "So much so that people do take liberties and kind of take different quotes to fit their situation, and nothing is more frustrating for me than that."

King says she urges others repeating his words to find the proper context he used them in.

“For instance, when he talked about riots being the language of the unheard, he was not justifying and saying that he endorsed riots," he said. "He was explaining where the riots are coming from.”

King, who was 5 when her father was assassinated, also pointed to another she says is often misunderstood, this famous line from his “I Have a Dream” speech: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"People are always saying Dr. King was for a colorblind America," she said, "and nothing cold be further from the truth.

“He was basically explaining that, no, there’s a beauty in who I am as a black person, but I should not be judged by those standards. It’s not that you don’t see my race. You see my race, you acknowledge my race and you accept everything I bring along with that.”

King said she hopes the conversation about race doesn’t slow down and asked for help in achieving equality.

"We want to continue to keep people aware and conscious and working towards the solution,” she said. “We've got to uproot white supremacy and racism in our society once and for all. We're here now. We can't go back. I'm asking all of my white brothers and sisters to do the anti-racism work. It's essential. And it's nothing to be scared of."

In an appearance Friday on TODAY, King said her father would still be fighting for his cause in the same manner now.

"I think the same message that he gave us in the latter part of his life, that (in) America, we still have a choice today between nonviolent coexistence and violent co-annihilation," she said. "That choice is reflected in whether or not we choose to reorder some of our priorities and have a revolution of values in this country."