In the past few years, the city of Atlanta, the country and the world have lost so many our civil rights icons, people who paved the way for the freedoms that many black people enjoy today. This past week, we lost Dr. Christine King Farris, sister of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also a civil rights activist in her own right. To God be the glory for a well-lived life! Please read a press release regarding the life of Dr. Christine Farris King below.
The King Center joins the King and Farris families, civil rights activists, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church family, academic family, and people of goodwill worldwide in celebrating the life of our servant leader, founding board member, former Vice-Chair & Treasurer, activist, educator, and family matriarch, the beloved Dr. Christine King Farris. The sister of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passed on the morning of June 29 at age 95. Celebration of life arrangements will be announced at a later date.
NOTE: Since this post, there has been an update regarding celebration of life arrangements. Please see below…
Dr. Christine King Farris’ family announced that their matriarch will lie in state at Georgia’s State Capitol Rotunda on Friday, July 14, 2023, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. A memorial service in her honor is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. Dr. Farris is the fourth Black American to receive such honors. Mrs. Coretta Scott King was the first, followed by Congressman John Lewis, and Atlanta Councilman C.T. Vivian.
The complete listing of celebration of life activities are below…
Dr. Farris’ life overflowed with acts of service, love, and education that inspired the world for nearly a century. She worked diligently to help build The King Center, founded by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Coretta Scott King in June 1968. The two began a memorial library, documenting Dr. King’s journey and the civil rights movement that same year. As a founding board member and long-time volunteer, Dr. Farris served as vice president, treasurer, and chief financial officer; later becoming senior vice president and ultimately vice chair and treasurer. Dr. Farris led a cadre of educators in developing Kingian Nonviolence curricula, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Infusion Model for Teaching Nonviolent Principles to grades K through 12. She also wrote the first intermediate-level textbook on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Farris served as the first director of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Early Learning Center and the Right to Read Program. Dr. Farris chaired the planning committees for The King Center’s Salute to Greatness Dinner and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecumenical Service, which later became The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service held in honor of her brother’s birthday and national holiday. For more than 30 years she also served as a presider for the Ecumenical/Commemorative Service.
She was one of the longest-serving, tenured professors at Spelman College, impacting students’ lives for 56 years, from 1958 to 2014. During her tenure, she was also appointed as an adjunct professor at Morehouse College and Atlanta University. Dr. Farris is the author of two children’s books, My Brother Martin, and March On: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, as well as her autobiography, Through It All: Reflection on My Life, My Family, and My Faith. Dr. Farris is a recipient of Spelman’s first Fannie Lou Hamer Outstanding Community Service Award, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, the International Reading Association (IRA) Teachers’
Choice Award, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Septima Clark Award, the Hyatt Hotels Heritage Community Service Award.
Dr. Farris was born Willie Christine King on September 11, 1927. Following the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, Dr. Farris attended Spelman College earning a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1948. Two years later, she earned a master’s degree in Social Foundations of Education from Columbia University and a second master’s degree in Special Education in 1958. Dr. Farris earned an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Bennett College.
She spent her entire life as a faithful member of Ebenezer Baptist Church where her grandfather, Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, father, and brothers served as senior and co-pastors, respectively, and her mother served as an organist, church leader, and choir director. Ebenezer was one of the first Atlanta churches to televise worship services in the 1970s. The church broadcast aired Sunday mornings on WAGA-TV, now Fox5 Atlanta. Dr. Farris served as one of the televised service’s producers and was a soloist in The Church Choir. She often served as the mistress of ceremonies at Ebenezer’s celebrations including an annual well-known gospel concert originated by her mother and featuring the M.L. King, Sr. Choir. Dr. Farris continued the choir concert as a living tribute to her mother, providing college scholarships for Ebenezer’s youth. Dr. Farris was
one of Ebenezer’s longest-serving members.
Ebenezer’s first daughter married Isaac Newton Farris, Sr. on August 19, 1960. Their marriage remained an example of love and commitment until his death on December 30, 2017. Her husband, an ordained deacon, supported his wife throughout her work as an educator, activist, and church trustee.
Dr. Farris was a strong supporter of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. She marched in the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965 and the March Against Fear in Mississippi on June 26, 1966. She encouraged audiences at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington to become champions for nonviolence and reminisced about her brother’s speech
saying. “On that day, Martin achieved greatness because he melded the hopes and dreams of millions into a grand vision of healing, reconciliation, and brotherhood. The dream my brother shared with our nation and world on that sweltering day of days fifty years ago, continues to nurture and sustain nonviolent activists worldwide in their struggle for freedom and human
rights…Our challenge then, as followers of Martin Luther King, Jr, is to now honor his life, leadership, and legacy by living our lives in a way that carries forward the unfinished work. There is no better way to honor his sacrifices and contributions than by becoming champions of nonviolence in our homes and communities, in our places of work, worship, and learning, everywhere, every day.”
The family will continue Dr. Farris’ work through The Christine King Farris Legacy Foundation Inc. which promotes higher education and leadership development. Established in 2022 to honor her 95th birthday, the foundation raises funds to support the Leadership Program and The Christine King Farris Scholarship, both at Spelman College. The King Center will also continue her legacy through the Christine King Farris Legacy of Service in Education Beloved Community Award.
See the tweet from Dr. Bernice King, her niece, below…
I love you and will miss you, Aunt Christine. pic.twitter.com/NXHsqaTVET
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) June 29, 2023
I interviewed Dr. Bernice King a few years ago, and one of the things that I remembered from the interview is that even though all of us see members of her family as civil rights icons, she simply experienced them as family. Not that she didn’t realize their great contributions to this city, country and the whole world, but in her heart, they were just family. And it has been terribly difficult for her to lose so many family members particularly in such a tragic way. Her grandmother was shot in the middle of a church service, her uncle drowned, her father was assassinated (as most people know) and the lives of other members of her family were cut short as well. Thankfully, her Aunt Christine lived a long life…