Living with the legacy People expected more from the sons and daughters of the slain civil rights leaders. As adults, they have tried to balance those expectations with their desire for fulfillment.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Yolanda King sits in her stocking feet, sipping peppermint tea and passing on the gospel truth. "This old lady used to say, 'It's hard enough being who you is, let alone who you ain't.' "

She smiles and her warm laughter fills the hotel room. The old lesson guides her life these days. Growing up in Atlanta, people were always watching Yolanda King, reminding her that being herself was not enough.

She had a legacy to live up to and a hero's torch to carry. It was the same with the other men and women who lost their fathers during the civil rights era.

The world expected more of a King, an Evers, a Shabazz.

Celebrity was thrust upon them. As adults, they tried to balance impossible demands with their search for personal fulfillment.

"We have to find that place of self-acceptance and self-understanding and confidence," says King, 42, an actress in Los Angeles. "It is a lifelong journey."

The generation that stood with Medgar, Malcolm and Martin wanted the sons and daughters to be leaders who could stir a nation. In their eyes, a normal life was a disappointment.

"I want them to be engaged in the life of their communities," says Julian Bond, recently named chairman of the NAACP. "I don't get the sense that they are."

A simple life offered challenges enough for the 13 sons and daughters. Some tried to slip through college without revealing their identities. In desperation, one sought escape by putting a knife to her wrist. It seemed the only way out.

Old wounds began to heal during adulthood. But then the Shabazz family lost its matriarch, Betty Shabazz, last year in a fire set by her grandson, Malcolm. For the Kings and Everses, confrontations with their fathers' assassins brought a sense of resolution.

All searched their souls for answers to questions lingering since childhood. Some tried therapy and religion. They discovered each other and forged lifetime bonds. Some married and divorced. Others felt too bruised to form strong relationships.

They did not achieve the greatness of their fathers. There was no need.

"You have to follow your own dream," says Reena Evers-Everette. "More than anything else, that's what my father wanted for us."

Dealing with self-doubt

In college, these men and women learned how their fathers' legacies could dominate their lives.

At the State University of New York in New Paltz, Ilyasah Shabazz felt people changed when they learned her parents were Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. To her, their motives became suspect.

"They would want to know, 'Why didn't you tell me? Oh my gosh!' " says Ilyasah, now 35 and director of public relations for the City of Mount Vernon, N.Y. "Then they would start tripping, 'Malcolm X's daughter! Malcolm X's daughter!' "

Black students wanted her to speak for them. They figured she could bring back the fire of the revolution. They were wrong. "I had gone to private school. I had gone to camps in Vermont. So, I wasn't like this powerful, emotional speaker. I was just ...," she shrugs.

She just wanted to be "Yasah," a biology major. Like Martin Luther King III, she wanted people to relate to her, not her name. She struggled to find her own identity.

"Look," she says, "my hair's permed, OK? I had gone through this thing where I started questioning myself. Here I am, Malcom X's daughter and my hair is permed. Sometimes I would wrap my hair when I would go places."

Self-doubt troubled their lives. Darrell Evers found comfort and stability in the teachings of the Maharaj Ji, an Indian guru. An art school buddy had told him about the guru and the followers of the Divine Light Mission.

"They were talking about the essence of what you are," Evers says while sitting by the beach in Malibu, Calif. "It stretched beyond the color barrier, the creed barrier."

Through this he attained knowledge, a state of understanding not unlike what he felt when his father died.

Tall and ruggedly built, Darrell, 44, wears his hair in a sleek ponytail. There's a defiance in him. He talks angrily about being harassed by police in Los Angeles. They put tracking devices on his car and tapped his phones, he claims. He believes it's because of who he is and because his art deals with controversial topics such as the Rodney King case and the U.S. invasion of Panama.

His faith keeps him balanced, able to handle the police intimidation, the pressures of starting his own computer software testing company, the joys of raising his son, Keanan, 13.

"Knowledge," he says, is his "foundation. ... It's like you can do anything to me and it doesn't matter as long as I'm within that experience."

For Yolanda King, acting provided a sense of self.

At 14, her role in a local play sent black Atlanta into an uproar. The local paper wrote about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter playing a prostitute and kissing a white boy in a production of "The Owl and the Pussycat." People called her grandfather, Daddy King, and said Martin was rolling over in his grave. Some threatened to leave Ebenezer Baptist Church, where three generations of Kings had preached. The congregation demanded an explanation.

When it was all over, Yolanda knew she had to leave Atlanta. "I got to get out of here," she recalled. "I will never grow up. Everyone wants to tell me how to live my life."

Her gypsy spirit carried her to Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and to New York University where she earned a master's degree in theater. In 1980, she met Attallah Shabazz during an interview with Ebony magazine. Soon they were giving speeches and touring as Nucleus, a theater troupe.

Yet, Yolanda wondered if acting was enough. She began speaking across the country and directing cultural affairs at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. But she really wanted to be on the stage.

"In life, I had to be prim and proper and poised - The King Daughter," says Yolanda. "But acting, I could be the zany, silly, sometimes foolish person that I am. I could let the raw edges show."

And it was acting that helped her deal with her grief. At the first national commemoration of Dr. King's birthday in 1986, she hit "rock bottom."

"It was the first time I really began to mourn my father," she says. "I really had not taken the time to do that."

She quit the King Center, cut back on her speaking and developed a multimedia tribute to her father. She played 16 characters in "Tracks," performed it at the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center, and took the show on the road for four years.

"It gave me some personal confidence that I sorely needed," says Yolanda.

"My mother supported me from the beginning and never said you should be an activist or civil rights leader or minister. She never did that to us and thank God she didn't."

The depths of despair

For another King, the deepest despair came during graduate school.

Bernice King turned 5 a week before her father was killed. She barely remembered him, didn't read his speeches, didn't ask questions about his life.

But at 16, while on a youth retreat with others from Ebenezer, Bernice watched "Montgomery to Memphis," a documentary about her father. She had seen it before, but this time the hurt buried since childhood poured out. She ran into the woods and cried for hours. Her cousin, Angela Farris, tried to comfort her, but couldn't answer her questions: "Why had he left? Why did God take him? Why wasn't the world a better place because of him?"

Her pain continued to build. She felt life had cheated her, first taking her father, then her uncle and grandmother. Anger stole her smile. She railed against blacks for not doing better, and whites for being behind her father's murder.

The turmoil took a physical toll. She was wracked by depression and stomach pains doctors could not cure. Still, she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Spelman College in Atlanta, entered law school at Emory University in 1985 and simultaneously worked toward a divinity degree.

Always an excellent student, she was put on academic probation twice. The shame and embarrassment made her feel like a failure.

She had thought about suicide before. This time, at age 24, she grabbed a knife in her apartment and put it to her wrist. Her pain would be gone.

"I couldn't see any way out," she says. "I had come to my end."

Then an Epiphany.

"The Lord came into my room through the presence of the spirit," she says. The spirit spoke to her, told her she would be missed.

She stopped running from her past and accepted the call to preach.

"I felt you had to be this, that and the other before you were a preacher," she says. "I know better now. When God calls you, you don't have to get everything in order. You'll never get everything in order."

Three years ago, she became an assistant pastor at Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Southwest Atlanta. People compare her to her father, but her language is different, tuned to an audience hungry for a 1990s version of spirituality.

"I'm still angry," says Bernice, 35. "I just transformed it into another kind of expression."

'Let Mommy hold me'

Having come to terms with their father's death, the Shabazz daughters now seek solace in their own ways from the tragedy that took their mother's life.

Malikah lives in the Mount Vernon home where Betty Shabazz raised her six daughters. She can smell her mother in the rooms. Gamilah looks in a mirror and sees her mother's face in her own. Ilyasah hears her mother's voice when she's low: "Find the good and praise it."

Some mornings, Ilyasah calls Gamilah at 5 a.m., the way their mother did.

"Oh, are you sleeping?" Ilyasah says, her voice pitched higher to imitate her mother.

It makes Gamilah laugh a bit. For years, Gamilah, the once rebellious daughter, and her mother didn't speak. But in the past two years, they became close again.

"She learned to accept me as an individual with my own ideas, something I'd fought all my life for," says Gamilah, 33, who lives in Harlem.

Sitting in a restaurant, she looks like she has been crying for weeks, perhaps months. Her voice is shaky and full of sighs.

"Some nights I want to see her, and it really, really tears me up. I go into my son's room. ... He's asleep, and he looks exactly like her," she says.

Gamilah has even caught herself quoting her mother.

When she goofed off as a child, her mother used to say, "Do you have to act so silly?" One day, Gamilah asked her 9-year-old son, Malik, the same thing. "I grabbed my head and said, 'Oh my God, I'm turning into Mom.'"

Memories of the fire and her mother's wounds still bring tears to Ilyasah's eyes. She finds strength in remembering her mother's courage.

"When her husband was taken from her, she was pregnant with twins and she had four babies. She didn't have a big support factor," she says. "I'm older. I don't have any children. ... If she could do it, then you just have to absorb her strength and her tenacity and persevere."

Ilyasah downplays her family's tragedies.

"I don't think we're cursed," she says. "I don't think that our experience is so much different than other people's."

As she talks, her body betrays her. She rocks back and forth on the sofa of her Mount Vernon home, holds herself as if trying to keep her pain in check. Tall and slender with long black hair, she looks like a model. She tried modeling once, but her mother objected.

Her mother's death has given her a new mission. She devotes herself to projects Betty Shabazz left unfinished. Born Muslim, she visits churches of various denominations and at night seeks comfort in prayer.

"I thank God for all the blessings that I had for the day," she says. "I thank God for my health. I ask God to bless my sisters, each one of them, and to help all of us see clearly for my nephews, for Malcolm, and then I ask, sometimes, 'Please, let Mommy hold me tonight.'"

Betty Shabazz never got a chance to hold her namesake, Bettih Bahiyah, but she knew Malikah would have a girl. Malikah, 32, is thankful her mother supported her decision to have a child on her own.

In the children's clothing store she and her mother opened in Mount Vernon last spring, Malikah talks while Bettih sleeps soundly against her.

"It's going to be something that we're going to have to deal with for the rest of our lives," she says of her mother's death.

On June 1, 1997, Malikah woke up troubled. It was 4 a.m. and her mother hadn't answered the page she sent hours earlier. Strange. Ma Betty always answered. Now, it was almost morning. Then the phone rang.

"It was Yasah saying Mommy was in the hospital," Malikah says.

Slowly, the night's horror came together. Betty Shabazz had awakened to find her apartment in flames. She ran through the fire into the hallway. Some believe she was afraid Malcolm, then 12, was in another room. But he was gone. Police later found him wandering the streets of Yonkers, N.Y. smelling of gasoline. They charged him with setting the fire.

Betty Shabazz, 61, suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body. The daughters gathered at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Attallah flew in from Los Angeles and Qubilah flew in from Texas. Malikah, who felt protective of her mother and slept with her until she was a teen-ager, longed to climb into the hospital bed with her.

Friends arrived to offer support. Van Evers paid a visit. Bernice King prayed with the family.

After 22 days and five operations, Betty Shabazz died.

Later, with a prayer woman watching, the daughters followed the Sunni Muslim custom of washing their mother's body, wrapping it in cloth and preparing it for burial.

"That was very special because it was a time that no one could invade," Malikah says. "It was all we had."

A few days later, the sisters gave the world a chance to say good bye. Thousands filled the majestic Riverside Church in New York. Hundreds more stood outside and listened to the service over loudspeakers.

Bernice, Yolanda and Coretta Scott King were there, along with Darrell, Reena and their mother, Myrlie Evers-Williams. They understood the essence of this service. It was their past all over again: a violent act, a nation shocked and mourning.

To Malikah, the Kings and Everses felt like family. Then she realized that wasn't quite right. They were more than family.

Malcolm, convicted of the juvenile equivalent of second-degree arson and second-degree manslaughter, is serving an 18-month sentence at a treatment center in Lenox, Mass. His problems seem connected to the anguish his mother, Qubilah, now 37, faced in her life.

She spent two semesters at Princeton University, then studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she had Malcolm. Hers was a nomadic life of low-paying jobs and rooming houses in California, Philadelphia and New York.

Three years ago, she was arrested for allegedly plotting to kill Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a man she believed was involved in her father's murder. Bernice King, Reena Evers-Everette and other women rallied to support her, creating a defense fund. "We are indeed one in the spirit," Bernice said then.

Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges if Qubilah consented to counseling. As she worked to straighten out her life, Malcolm lived with relatives, most recently his grandmother.

Ilyasah doesn't believe her nephew intentionally set the fire. "Malcolm somehow became very confused," she says. "He didn't think he was harming Ma Betty."

Malikah won't talk about him. Her own child is her anchor.

"I just take care of the baby and that allows me not to deal with it," she says. "Time doesn't keep you from saying, 'I wish it were me.' Time just helps you get past each time you want to break down."

Confronting two assassins

For the Evers family, no one cast a more troubling shadow than Byron De La Beckwith. They knew he was guilty, yet free.

Van Evers didn't go to Beckwith's third trial in Hinds County, Miss. He had already achieved a measure of peace. A year earlier, he had stood beside his father's plot in Arlington National Cemetery and watched as workmen tore through the packed earth.

After they had lifted the casket into a waiting van, he had squeezed into the only space big enough for his body. For the six hours from Arlington to Albany, N.Y., he lay beside the coffin, thinking about his life and the father he barely remembered.

By the time he returned home from Albany, where the second autopsy had been performed, Van had what he set out to find: A lasting memory of his father.

His mother, brother and sister attended Beckwith's trial, taking seats across the aisle from the aging segregationist. Reena didn't say a word to Beckwith, then 73. Darrell seethed inside. He wanted to snap Beckwith's neck.

On Feb. 5, 1994, the jury of eight blacks and four whites told the world what the Evers family already knew: On the morning of June 12, 1963, Beckwith took aim from a honeysuckle thicket and shot Medgar Evers in the back. Van cried when his mother called him with the news.

"It was very good for us all," he says, sitting in his Los Angeles studio, where he is a photographer. "He was guilty. He shot my father and bragged about it. ... He created a lot of pain, an enormous amount of pain."

Van, 38, knows the conviction will not end his family's pain.

"It will never be done," he says. "That's the struggle."

And yet, Beckwith's trial gave the Evers family a sense of resolution the Kings have never felt. James Earl Ray's confession - quickly recanted - and guilty plea didn't settle the issue for the Kings. They rarely discussed the case.

The men who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. believed there was a conspiracy, possibly centered in the FBI. A two-year government inquiry in 1979 found "substantial evidence" of a conspiracy centered on a white, racist St. Louis businessman who had put a $50,000 bounty on Dr. King's head. The truth remains a topic of fierce debate.

The Kings had their doubts, but couldn't see a way to reopen the case without forcing the world to relive the painful, violent spring of 1968 when cities burned.

Then last year, the New York Times called Dexter King. Ray was dying from cirrhosis of the liver. His family wanted a trial before it was too late. Any comment?

The Kings saw their chance. On Feb. 13, 1997, they stood before the media and said a jury trial was the only way to get at the truth. Historians scoffed.

Dexter, 37, who had emerged as the family spokesman, bore the brunt of the criticism.

He was the analytical son, the one who checked all the angles before making a decision. He had gone through his own trials, dropping out of Morehouse College in Atlanta because of a still-undisclosed medical condition, surviving a car wreck in which he was thrown into a field.

He became a strict vegetarian, began meditating. Some say Martin got the name, but Dexter got the looks. From certain angles, he has his father's face. He still has the build of the young man who played fullback and linebacker in high school.

Last spring, he went to Nashville, Tenn., and sat with Ray for 20 minutes in a prison hospital. Dexter told Ray that the King family believed in his innocence. A year later, Ray, who is serving a

99-year sentence, is no closer to a trial, but the Kings have a sense of resolution that had eluded them.

"Once we started seeing the supporting evidence it became clear that not only was James Earl Ray not the triggerman, but that he was also the patsy," says Dexter. "As far as my family goes, we feel we know what happened and we can move on."

Questioning motives

Their heritage complicates the private lives of the 13 men and women. Van Evers is the only one who is married. The rest are divorced, single parents, engaged, unattached.

They are wary of strangers. Because of who they are, some people have no qualms about stopping them on the street or in the supermarket to talk about their fathers. They're never sure if the attentions given are genuine. In relationships, they wonder who measures up.

"I would think in the back of my head, 'I'm Malcolm X's daughter,'" says Ilyasah Shabazz. "And a lot of guys have said that to me. And sometimes you become a little unapproachable."

Van Evers didn't have to worry about interpreting the motives of a stranger. He married Mimi Ryan, a childhood friend of 34 years from down the block. The Ryans' house with its large Irish-Catholic family was Van's second home.

The marriage might bring him criticism: How could the son of Medgar Evers marry someone who is white?

"You don't get married for race," he says. "You get married out of friendship and love."

In black Atlanta's social circle, people look at the Kings - ages 35 to 42 - and wonder why none have married. "People want them to marry," says Michael Bond, son of the NAACP leader. He is an Atlanta city councilman and longtime acquaintance of the Kings. "They want to see a perpetuation, Dr. King's immortality extended into the future."

Aided by three years of therapy and her own studies in psychology, the Rev. Bernice King traces part of her being single to her father's death. He is, she says, the "man who came into my life and left."

"The greatest issue I have at this point in my life is my fear of abandonment. I don't let too many people get close to me because I fear they are going to leave me or they're going to forsake me. What I have to constantly repeat to myself is: The world is safe."

'I worry about the kids'

While the old guard understands the strains of a public life, they want these men and women to take greater roles.

Julian Bond, the civil rights leader, says the members of this generation "suffer from their inheritance."

"No one passed the torch to Medgar Evers or Martin Luther King," Bond says. "They grabbed the torch. You get the feeling that this generation wants someone to say, 'Here's the torch. Take it.'"

The old guard looks to the children of its leaders, but blood is no guarantor of character, of passion. Some are confused by Dexter King's attempts to promote his father's legacy through computer technology and the Internet. His first try at running the King Center in 1989 ended in a much-publicized resignation amid reports of managerial and personal differences with his mother and older members of the board of directors.

Four years ago, his mother stepped aside and brought him back to run the center. Now he has firm control as chairman, president and chief executive officer.

He has cut staff to reduce the center's deficit, sparred with the National Park Service and signed a marketing deal with Time-Warner that could reap millions of dollars for the King family. CD-ROM and Web sites are the buzz words at the King Center. There is not much talk about nonviolent social change.

"Dexter seems to want to turn the King Center into an entertainment theme park," Julian Bond says.

King brushes off the criticism. The King Center is a clearinghouse for information. It was never supposed to be an activist organization, he says.

"I feel like a failure because I've never been able to get the message out as it should get out," he says. "I can't come up with a sound bite."

The Kings are negotiating to sell the center to the park service and use the proceeds to endow a foundation.

"I worry about the kids," says Hosea Williams, 72, who led the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the road from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. "I worry about them very much."

"Uncle Hosea," as he used to be called, still burns with the fire that made him one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s trusted lieutenants. His shoulders look as if he built up thick mountains of muscle during the bloody marches of more than 30 years ago.

King's children, Medgar's children, all of them should be charging forth, he says, just like their fathers did, just like he did in St. Augustine, Fla. and Birmingham.

"They have the ability," he says. "They have the intelligence, the tenacity. ... They lack the will."

Quest for normalcy

They have all heard such comments, come across people who expected to find in them charismatic giants, but instead found a man or woman trying to live an honorable life. That is the type of life Reena Evers-Everette wants for herself and for her children.

After she separated from her husband in 1987, she stepped off the management fast track at United Airlines, becoming a customer service representative with hours that give her more time with her three children. Her first grandchild arrived two years ago - a boy named Daniel Michael, born to her son, Daniel Medgar, 20, and his girlfriend.

"I want them to lead a normal life," she says. "That's really been my push to have them lead a so-called, white-picket-fence, two-cars-in-the-garage, that type of normal life."

Now 43, Reena has lived longer than her father. Yet she's still often called "the child" of Medgar Evers. "That's how people refer to us because that's how they remember us," she says. "I might not like it but I accept it."

Reena grew up with the NAACP, but is ambivalent about the organization and its treatment of her family. She prefers to work with local groups, like the Red Cross and the Claremont, Calif. Human Resources Race Relations Committee.

"It's still a battle," she says. "There are times when I think maybe I should be jumping out there to speak and I battle with myself all the time. I say, 'If I do this it will take me away from my family, and what's my priority right now?' My priority is with them."

One weeknight finds her in the bleachers watching her daughter, Cambi, perform with the Claremont High School drill team during halftime. Reena was the first black cheerleader at the school. Now, black, white, Hispanic and Asian students and their parents fill the stands and root for Claremont. She wishes her father were here.

"This," she says, with a smile directed toward the starry sky, "is what he wanted to see."

'I'm going to be Martin'

Martin Luther King III, 40, also has been stung by people who complain that he's not his father. He once tried to hide from his legacy by calling himself "Marty," but eventually realized he could not run from his father's name.

"'Marty' is kind of playful, to me, not serious," he says. "'Martin' is a serious person."

In January, he became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group his father led during the civil rights movement.

Now everybody wants him. One cold, blustery afternoon finds him leading a children's march through downtown Newark, N.J. At City Hall, a picture taken in Memphis the day before his father's funeral grabs his attention. In it he holds Dexter's hand and stares stoically into the camera.

"We'd gone to lead a demonstration to continue his work," he says, studying the shy, round-faced 10-year-old boy he once was.

He still has the round face, only now it is covered by a close cut, salt-and-pepper beard.

He's here to give a speech in support of a children's campaign to honor his father. Harris Wofford, an old civil rights warrior, introduces him and says King is "carrying the torch for his mother and his father and for America."

Martin tries to tap into the magic his father possessed.

But his words lack the inspired cadence and soaring majesty of his father. No matter. When he finishes, the crowd swarms around him for autographs, handshakes, a few moments beside the son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Maybe I give them reason to hope," he says. "We are his flesh. We are his children. Hopefully, they feel a sense of him."

Months later, sitting at SCLC headquarters, Martin feels his father's presence in the narrow halls and cluttered rooms. The SCLC, with a $1 million budget, spends little on luxuries, unlike the spacious, corporate-style offices of the King Center.

For years the civil rights movement's old guard waited for Martin Luther King III to find himself. They waited through his years as a Fulton County Commissioner. Now they wait to see how he will lead.

"I'm going to be compared to my father for the rest of my life and there's nothing I can do about that," he says. "People expect me to be him and that's a problem, but not so much a problem that I won't be able to function. I'm going to be Martin, and Martin the third is not Martin Junior."

A joyous tribute

Attallah Shabazz stands before the microphone, waiting for the applause to die down. Once again she and her sisters have been called to a tribute for their mother. But this one is different.

They are with Coretta Scott King, who thought of their mother as her "sister." Yolanda King, friend of the Shabazz family for nearly 20 years, is here with her sister, the Rev. Bernice King, and her brother, Dexter.

For many of the 1,000 people in the hotel ballroom, this $185-a-plate dinner is just another night on Atlanta's social calendar. But for Attallah, the King Center's annual "Salute to Greatness" dinner is a chance to connect with friends who are more than family.

The Shabazz daughters had to be here. Malikah, who delivered her baby by Caesarean a week earlier, drove 900 miles from Mount Vernon with little Bettih. People lined up to coo over Bettih, some seeing in her the gift of hope and new life to a family reeling from a mother's death.

As Yolanda King's video tribute plays across the screens, Betty Shabazz's strong, clear voice comes over the speakers.

"If I believe in me, don't tell me I hate you. Believing in me gives me the yardstick to understand how to respect and treat you."

Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Malaak and Malikah crane their necks to watch their family's story. Their faces speak of pride, wonderment, pain and fear. They are introduced as "the keepers of the Shabazz legacy." The crowd gives them a standing ovation.

The room grows quiet as Attallah struggles with memories and emotions brought on by the video. Her voice, soft and quivering, spills over the room.

"They didn't get to be brethren walking down the path together," she says of her father and Dr. King. She is on the verge of tears, but she presses on. "Yet 30 years later, we beat those odds. Their wives became partners - mothers of the movement, sisters, friends, buddies. Our families united."

Six months ago, the six Shabazz sisters buried their mother. The Kings and the Everses comforted them. On this night, it is not just Betty Shabazz they honor, or the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. they celebrate with cake and two choruses of "Happy Birthday." They affirm the bonds that connect them.

They grew up worlds apart. But in adulthood these sons and daughters discovered in each other a kinship that became a source of strength.

When the crowd rises and crosses arms to sing "We Shall Overcome," the Shabazz daughters reach out to each other in a different way, loosely holding hands without letting go.

The song's words resonate in the lives of these young men and women. They know what it means to overcome sorrow, to struggle for peace, and to tell their own stories.

For reprints

A limited number of reprints of "The Content of Their Character" series will be available from SunSource. To recieve a copy, call 410-332-6800 or write SunSource, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278.

To learn more

The Sun's Web site, www.sunspot.net, features extensive links to coverage of the civil rights movement. Read about the historic March on Washington, and listen to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s stirring "I Have a Dream" speech. Hear the sons and daughters of King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X talk about their lives with their famous fathers and the trauma of their assassinations. Learn how newspapers covered the killings and their aftermath.

Sun staff librarian Andrea Wilson and photo editor Amy Deputy contributed to this story.

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