Remembering Christine King Farris

Christine King Farris celebrates her 95th birthday on Sept. 11, 2022, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Among those in attendance are her son-in-law Willie Watkins, daughter Angela Christine Farris-Watkins, granddaughter Farris Christine Watkins, and son Isaac Newton Farris. Jena Jones, Atlanta History Center

On June 29, 2023, Atlanta bid farewell to Christine King Farris, a significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Farris, the eldest sister of the Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and beloved educator passed away at 95. She left behind a legacy of love, education, and resilience. 

Born Willie Christine King on September 11, 1927, Farris started her life journey in her maternal grandparents’ home in the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta. She was the first child of Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Christine Williams King, and the only sister of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929) and Alfred Daniel King (1930). Despite their playful and mischievous natures, the siblings maintained a deep connection due to their close age. 

Following her mother and maternal grandmother’s paths, Farris graduated from Spelman College in 1948. During this time, her brothers, Martin, and A.D. were not far away, studying at neighboring Morehouse College and graduating in 1948 and 1959, respectively. 

She embodied the power of ongoing education in preserving the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sheffield Hale, President and CEO of Atlanta History Center

After earning her bachelor’s degree in economics, Farris continued her education at Columbia University in New York, where she received a master’s degree in social foundations in education in 1950. She added another master’s degree, this time in special education, to her academic credentials in 1958. 

Along with starting her teaching career following her 1958 college graduation, Farris dedicated her free time to supporting Dr. King when he emerged as the spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Farris later worked behind the scenes, organizing marches and speeches for her brother. She also joined her younger brother in the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965. 

Martin Luther King Sr., his daughter Christine King Farris and others observe the 47th birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at his tomb at the King Center on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Boyd Lewis, Boyd Lewis Photographs, Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center

Following the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, Farris teamed up with Coretta Scott King to establish the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change on Auburn Avenue. The center officially opened its doors in June 1968, preserving the teachings of Dr. King. Farris continued to honor her brother’s principles by developing the “Martin Luther King Jr. Infusion Model for Teaching Nonviolent Principles,” a curriculum for children in kindergarten through 12th grades. 

Sheffield Hale, president, and chief executive officer of Atlanta History Center, acknowledged Farris as a beacon of hope, attributing her influence to her passion for equal education opportunities and civil rights. “She embodied the power of ongoing education in preserving the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. 

Christine King Farris, former United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Judy Forte, and Senator Raphael Warnock visit Ebenezer Baptist Church to see the progress of renovations in 2019. Tami A. Heilemann, U.S. Department of the Interior

In 2006, Farris authored a children’s book, “My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” where she recounted the strong bond between herself and her younger brothers. While perpetuating her brother’s legacy, Farris also served as a tenured professor at her alma mater, Spelman College, from 1958 to 2014, making her the longest-serving tenured professor there. 

To celebrate her 95th birthday, the Christine King Farris Legacy Foundation Inc. was established to encourage leadership development and higher education. The foundation supports the Leadership Program and the Christine King Farris Scholarship at Spelman. 

Farris is survived by her children, Angela Christine Farris Watkins and Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., her nephew Martin Luther King III, her niece Bernice King, and numerous grandchildren. Bernice King continues Farris’s legacy by serving as CEO of the King Center.