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Transcript of Interview with Dr. Alveda King

By Fr. Frank Pavone

August, 2001

Defending Life Program on EWTN, Series VII, Number II


Fr. Frank: One of our Nation's greatest moral leaders once wrote the following words: "The next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and goodwill toward men, is the non-violent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life." That leader was none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. Today on our program we're privileged to have his niece, Alveda King Tookes, who has come from Atlanta to join us. Alveda, welcome to the program.

Alveda: Thank you, Father.

Fr. Frank: You are a civil rights activist yourself and an educator and I understand also an honorary doctorate from St. Anselm's was recently given to you.

Alveda: Yes, It's been a very full life. I was reminded of that life here in Birmingham when I walked back through the walks of the civil rights movement and the analogy between the fight for life and the fight for the rights of human beings during that time period. It just struck me at my heart and as you say, Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. believed that life was sacred and we have to continue to uplift that message throughout America. As we see the tide changing and people are coming back to a value for life, then I just admire and respect you for keeping this cause moving like this.

Fr. Frank: Well we're going to talk in this segment a little about the connection between these two great movements, the civil rights and the pro-life movement. First of all, tell us a little bit about some of your memories of your uncle. How old were you when he was coming into the national spotlight as a civil rights leader?

Alveda: I was a very little girl during the 50's and during the 60's I was a teenager. I was married the year right after he died, in 1969. But I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He and my dad Reverend A.D. Williams King (Alfred Daniel Williams). As brothers they were family men and they used to take us as children and throw us up into the air and catch us. I remember my uncle's laugh. He had a deep resounding base voice and he just laughed. And as little children we would run around them and play with them. And so that same love that the Nation knew on behalf of civil rights we knew as a family man. So it was real good.

Fr. Frank: Now how many of his public speeches for example or some of these big demonstrations and marches that he led were you present at?

Alveda: Many of the sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was the Pastor. Because my granddad, we were a close family and that was our family church. I had many occasions to hear my uncle teach and preach at Ebenezer. I remember his messages and it was a message for everybody. He was a very educated man with a large vocabulary so he spoke on a level to educators but then he also spoke to the common man.

Fr. Frank: You have told me privately - but I would like you to reflect here publicly - that if he were around today, your uncle Martin would be joining us in our marches and our efforts to save the unborn babies. Tell us why you believe that.

Alveda: Well, not only from the quote that you just read but he once said that the Negro could never succeed if he was willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for personal comfort and personal gain. So he continued to say how important it was to nurture the children. He was a family man himself and so he demonstrated that in his life. So how could we expect him to be different today from the very same thing that he continued to say and demonstrate during his life? And so the value of human life even if it's in the womb is still a baby and Martin Luther King was such a scholar and such a prophet of the Bible and the word of God he would have to have read how Jesus leapt in his mother's womb at the time he met John the Baptist. They met before they were born. And Dr. King would have had to know that human life begin and in the Psalm, "you knew me even before I was formed." Martin Luther King believed in the Bible. So he would not have left his belief system and his faith to support a movement that would destroy human life. He just couldn't do it.

Fr. Frank: We read a little of that quote. This was from A Christmas homily that he gave at that same church. Let me read a little bit more of it. "We must affirm the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God." And then he goes on to say, "man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a litmus smoldering. Man is a child of God made in his image and therefore must be respected as such. We are all one in Christ Jesus and when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality we won't exploit people, we won't trample over people with the iron feet of oppression. We won't kill anybody." Isn't that the principle that links these two movements, the pro-life movement and the civil rights movement?

Alveda: That is the principle and if you had known Martin Luther King as a family man you would see pictures often of his wife while she's carrying those children. So he knew his children before they were born. And he would have respected that. And if you look at the two movements and that's why the other movements that emerged, that came into being, the right for a woman's choice, for instance. Well I could here my uncle saying because he was also a philosopher and a student of the law -and I could hear him say, right, a woman has the right to choose but where's the baby's lawyer? Who is going to represent that child? As you share with me and as we discussed the rights of that mother to know that child if a mother gives up a child by adoption. Once a baby is born she holds the baby in her arms she can change her mind. Or later when the child becomes an adult. We hear stories very often of them coming back to meet each other. So not only is the baby hurt but the mother is wounded. So if you're a real advocate of everybody's rights your going to look at the rights of the mother, you're going to look at the rights of the baby. I'm just convinced that if you look at true civil rights and you want to uplift the rights of people, you have to allow the people to live. You can't kill them.

Fr. Frank: let's look for a moment at the relationship between the human rights, the inalienable rights of which your uncle spoke and of which we speak in the pro-life movement in relationship of that to the government. Because obviously so many of the struggles that the civil rights movement undertook were trying to push the government. Sometimes in direct conflict with government. At other times government showing itself to be on the side of these rights. What kind of parallels do you see in terms of the relationship with government?

Alveda: Let me take you all the way back and you know across the nation now we have the fight to take the ten commandments out of the courts and all that but I where the ten commandments here on my arm. You're a scholar of languages. So if you look at the Ten Commandments where it says "Thou shalt not kill", it is still against the law in the United States to murder. The Hebrew translation of "Thou shalt not kill," is thou shalt not murder and so the law still has an obligation and a responsibility to protect life and that's how we came up with "it's not a baby until", "it's not alive until." But the funny thing about it, human life ends, according to the law when the heart stops beating. Well, that's babies heart and life is beating in that womb. So maybe you can shed some light for the audience as to how a government, how a group of people can say, we'll rationalize this. We'll just make sure it's not a baby yet. How do we as a society come to a place like that?

Fr. Frank: It really is incredible. There is a spirit of blindness here, isn't there? Just like there is in terms of civil rights. You've seen the parallels haven't you between this kind of blindness that can say it's ok to abort a child and the kinds of blindness that can say that's blacks are not equal to whites?

Alveda: Blacks are not people so we can hang them from trees. We can bomb them. They're not human beings. They're only half-human because of this reason or that reason. The funny thing I would see also - the same rationale that would allow me as a black person to come into the home of a white person, cook, clean up, take care of the children but I could not sit at that table. And I can see that same darkness saying if the baby has emerged from the mother's womb and I can hold it in the arms it's a person but if I look at it on a sonogram and I see a picture of it in the womb, it's not a person. It's amazing to me how the human mind can do that. But it's wrong and we have to continue to demonstrate that and to show that. You have seen the sign in the civil rights movement. They wore, "I am a Man". I believe that the human rights movement now that's supporting the life of the unborn. "I am a human being." "I am alive" and we need to continue to show that those babies are people. They have rights.

Fr. Frank: Another parallel here between the two movements is the manner in which the message is brought across to the public. Let's talk first of all about the concept of non-violence. This was a key part of his message. How did he articulate it? How did you come to understand what he meant by non-violence?

Alveda: That was shown to me and demonstrated, really, we were taught when it was time to go out to march and to demonstrate and they said that when people come against you with hate or with violence you do not hit back, you do not strike back. You accept that and trust God to protect your life and you continue. So, even in the face of violence we were non-violent. I think what really strikes me as young adults or growing children we had an opportunity to brace ourselves and prepare ourselves for that violence and we were taught and trained to resist it.

But the baby in the womb is violently attacked and it has no defense. It hasn't been trained, it hasn't been taught, it doesn't expect it. It's just wrenched from that protective environment and so it's bad enough in a civil rights movement when you are allowed and you have had a few mature years of light and you have been taught to deal with that hostility. But a baby in the womb is not even expecting that. That's what makes it even more heinous. It is just such a crime and an atrocity against a slave. A baby is almost like a slave. It's in the womb of the mother and the mother decides whether it lives or dies. Whether it will see daylight or not see daylight. It has no voice and yet that child is a real person.

As a black person in the civil rights movement I felt that and I know that and it was so easy for me to join the fight of the unborn because I had lived a life of oppression and I think that 's why.... Also because during the civil rights movement priests, fathers like yourself, men of the cloth, women of faith, the nuns who prayed and believed and cried with us to experience that and to believe in the right of the unborn and to lay down your life sometimes in a dangerous way. Because I know you face hate and hostility. But to do that just because it's right. God is going to have to...well I can't tell God what he has to do...but I know you'll be rewarded, I just want to encourage you.

Fr. Frank: Well Thank you and we encourage all who are listening to us too. We're going to take a quick break. Brothers and sisters we are privileged today to be talking to Alveda King Tookes who is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We'll be back with her right after this break. Please stay with us.


Fr. Frank: Welcome back to Defending Life. The pro-life movement and the effort to defend our unborn brothers and sisters is one of the greatest civil rights movements of all times and in that sense it bears similarities to all of the other great civil rights movements including that led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our National heroes. We are here talking with Alveda King Tookes who is Martin's niece. He was your dad's brother.

Alveda: He was and Rev. A.D. King was very similar in message as far as values to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were brought up by daddy king and mamma king who held life and family and God very closely and so my father was a rousing Baptist preacher. He could give a good message. Please be still. He would talk about the storm and how Christ spoke to the storm. That was one of his best sermons as far as I can remember. But my father also supported life and that is a family lifestyle for us. And as we visited at our home the other day when we looked at the house and I began to walk across the street to see the park where I used to play, I still thought about that unborn baby because the day before mother's day, we se the table, my mother went back to make sure that everything was beautiful.

Fr. Frank: This was right here in Birmingham?

Alveda: Right here in Birmingham. I had been out in the park looking at the butterflies. That may have been a day that I flew a kite, I don' t remember. It was a beautiful park. I came back in, saw my mother's pretty table, went to sleep and a few hours later out of this environment of comfort and love and protection the house explodes. And so you may recall that was days and days ago, March. As I walked back I had tears in my eyes and I did not share this with you but I thought about the unborn baby who was in the warmth and protection of the mother and then within moments just snatched out of that environment. As so for a moment I connected with those little babies. And so back to the civil rights movement. Can you imagine children, the bewildering lifestyle of being ok, being loved, playing and protected and then your house blows up or dogs and guns and billy clubs come at you. That has to be how those babies feel.

Fr. Frank: Yes, worse than anything we can imagine. Tell us about this bombing on your house in a little more detail

Alveda: That particular day the A.G. Gaston motel was bombed.

Fr. Frank: This was like the strategic headquarters for the.....

Alveda: where all the movement people came to congregate and meet. Dr. King would stay at the motel when he was in town. It was a thriving black business in those days and several homes of civil rights activists were bombed that same night and our home was one of the homes that was bombed. Birmingham became "bombingham" during that time. Because a few months later the church was bombed where the little girls died.

Fr. Frank. The four girls, right.

Alveda: so it was a very traumatic time and I keep thinking about the children because as you walk through the museum you see the pictures of little children who were involved in the movement. Christ said "let the children come." Throughout the bible history you will see the destruction of little children. They would sacrifice them to idol Gods. Or during the time of Moses' birth and babyhood they were destroying all the babies. During the time of Christ they were killing all the babies trying to keep Christ from coming forth. So historically that has been a very violent spirit against the birth of babies and you continue to see this and the destruction of the young.

I would like to give a warning to America. Every nation that did not hold life sacred and that shed the life of innocent blood, we saw those nations crumble and very likely if we didn't have voices like yours and all of the wonderful people in your network crying out for the unborn, America would be in much more trouble.

And so if you're complacent and I say this to the people in your audience. If you're complacent, if you're sitting at home and saying, "this doesn't involve me," it does.

Fr. Frank: That's one of the aspects of the message of Dr. King that is so powerful. He spoke about the mutuality with which our destinies are all intertwined. Black, white, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Gentile. He said we're all fighting together here. We're not fighting here for the dominance of the black man over the white man. We're fighting for the dignity of man as man. We are all together in this. One of the aspects I would like to touch on talked about the involvement of children in the civil rights movement. As you mentioned before you yourself were very young as all this was unfolding. Sometimes people will say in the pro-life movement, "oh, why are you bringing your children into this, why are they taking part in these marches, these demonstrations. Why are you talking to them about ugly things like abortion?" You're an educator. You teach students yourself. Tell us about the role students had in the civil rights movement. And how that could apply to the pro-life movement?

Alveda: Very often it was the young people that demonstrated that marched. There were even children's marches. Another point that you just made though. The media would like to protect children from truth because when children hear truth they respond, they react, they get on fire much more quickly. I am a college teacher but I have young students and initially when they're pro-choice, "it's ok to get an abortion, it's a woman's right to choose." When I begin to talk about PBA they're like, "oh" and if you notice the people in the pro-choice movement never want you to do the commercials. They never want you to show the pictures. They will not allow the media to see what's really happening because they know especially if younger audiences see the truth it's going to add up for them and it's going to say, no this is wrong. And so it's the children who are always the strength of any movement and that's why there's such a force against children to keep new generations of children coming forth because children respond much more readily to truth than people who are set in their ways.

Fr. Frank: Now the media, right her in Birmingham is one example and Selma is another example of how the Television cameras of America captured the violence that was being done against your people and against the civil rights activists. That was a deliberate strategy wasn't it?

Alveda: Dr. Martin Luther King said that initially before the media came in, and that was in the early days of President Kennedy - he said something like, "if the world does not get to see what's happening to us we'll all be slaughtered. Somebody's gonna have to see this." And so when the cameras broke through and the cameras began to show America what was happening that's when you had the responses from people in every community in America. The white communities, the Jewish communities, the complacent black communities. When they saw what was happening they began to say, no this is wrong. So if you heard a rumor or if you heard this happened you could ignore it. But when you begin to see it on your television you began to say, no. When it was on the front page of the newspapers, they were much more likely to react. And that's what I keep saying about this message for the life of the unborn. It has to be publicized. People have to know what's going on and the more that people see it - at first they're uncomfortable - they get upset and they say why would you show that to your children. Nobody needs to see that. Is that what really happens?

Fr. Frank: Right, bloody pictures and so forth.

Alveda: Right but when they know that that's what happens then they began to say, "no, this is not something we need to do."

Fr. Frank: Your uncle and I'm sure your father and other leaders they were accused of fostering violence weren't they?

Alveda: Yes they were. I believe the women who stabbed my uncle felt as though he were hurting the community. She felt as though she had to stop him. I heard people within the black community say myself as a child and one time a group of preachers came to my granddad, Daddy King and they said "you need to stop him", speaking of my Uncle Martin, "he's stirring up trouble." "If he wouldn't do this they wouldn't beat up our people, they wouldn't hurt our people, you need to make him stop." Pretty much, granddaddy was like - are we going to obey God or are we going to obey man? And so the movement of course, my grandfather never tried to get my uncle to stop with that message nor my dad. Same thing for the audience. When you here, why don't you stop this, why do you keep showing this to our children, you're being hurtful. You're not being hurtful when you tell the truth.

Fr. Frank: I always remember your uncle's letter from the Birmingham jail where he says, "wait a minute, we're not the one's causing trouble. The trouble's already there. The injustice is there. It has to be exposed if it's going to be solved.

Alveda: If it's not exposed people will not make an outcry. People will accept as long as an issue's hidden people will ignore it and it will continue.

Fr. Frank: That's why it's so important to show the injustice, the violence of abortion. One final question. The involvement of the black community in the pro-life movement. How can we best encourage our black brothers and sisters to be involved in the struggle for the rights of the unborn?

Alveda: Continue to educate the communities. Continue to show that you have a responsibility to nurture life and as long as people are in the dark, as long as people do not know or realize what they're doing they will continue to do so. Choose thee this day whom you will serve, choose thee this day, life or death. And when you put that question to anybody who really understands what's going on, usually they will come back. I remember my own children having to do a project on life and my son when he went on the internet, I allowed him to do so and he began to see those babies and he said, "mamma, they are people." And we need to let people know that.

Fr. Frank: You're and author and we have one of your books here. Do you want to tell us a little bit about it? We have a minute or two left but tell us about some of your writings.

Alveda: This is one of my favorites, "I Don't Want Your Man, I Want My Own." And it's a collection of testimonies about women who experience things in life that they overcame. Some of the women have very positive stories, successful mothers, successful marriages, and successful career women. Some who had to struggle to support life and to support issues like the one's we're discussing. It has a collection of poems in the back also. I wrote a book about Martin Luther King and the Bible, "God's Plan for the Black Man." Very soon one of my Christian novels is coming up. I enjoy writing, it's one of my favorite pastimes.

Fr. Frank: Well, I want to thank you for being with us on the program. Thank you for the recollections that you've given us of your dad and your uncle. The parallels between the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement. Thank you above all for your advocacy for the unborn child and we look forward to working together in the future.

Alveda: Thank you.

Fr. Frank: Brothers and Sisters we've been privileged today to talk to Alveda King Tookes and it is obvious if you've been watching this segment, that we are engaged in a struggle today that parallels so closely the struggle for civil rights in this Nation. It parallels so closely every human rights movement and issue. And that's why we're bagging you to take your rightful place in this movement. Dr. King said in his last public address on earth that the question we need to ask when we stand up for justice is not, "If I speak up what is going to happen to me?" The question we need to ask is, "If I don't speak up, what is going to happen to them" - to the victims. And we ask that of you again today. If we don't speak up, if we don't get involved, what is going to happen to our unborn brothers and sisters? Let us therefore courageously together, prayerfully and confidently continue to defend life.

This is Fr. Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life. God bless you.


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