Alveda King smiled at the question. The smile was a mischievous, pixieish grin almost leprechaunish, dressed as she was in green one that seemed to say that she had heard the question many times before.
“Yes, I’ve been asked that,” she finally answered. “I’ve been asked, ‘Are you a conservative or a liberal?’ and ‘Are you a Democrat or a Republican?’ …”
King rejects such labels - for herself, anyway. For the mission she’s on, labels are meaningless. Hers is not, she says, a political mission, but an educational one.
“I’m a person with a heart for children,” she insisted. And well she should be. She has six of her own and three grandchildren.
Sitting in the office of the conservative group Center for New Black Leadership recently, King appeared relaxed despite a hectic schedule as she prepared to give an interview. She wore a green skirt and green blouse, topped off by a green scarf wrapped around her head that she said made her “look ethnic.”
Those questions about her political loyalties are inspired by her position on granting school vouchers to poor and middle-income parents so they can send their children to private schools. King is pro-voucher, a position seen as traditionally conservative that flabbergasts some folks who believe her politics should be the same as those of her father, the late Rev. A.D. King and her famous uncle - the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The question comes from liberal boobie-heads, who have some notion that political leanings are somehow hereditary. A.D. and Martin Luther King Jr. were liberal civil rights activists, the thinking goes. Where did Alveda Celeste King go wrong?
“I believe that if Martin Luther King and A.D. King were here they would say, ‘Do what’s best for the children.’ It (the idea for school vouchers) may sound radical, but so were they,” King said of her father and uncle, her voice tinged with pride.
Of course, there have been many who have speculated how Martin Luther King would think were he alive today. Conservatives swear that it is indeed they who are carrying on his message, using King’s quote that people should be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin to justify their opposition to affirmative action programs.
But unlike the conservatives, Alveda King has no agenda for invoking the spirit of her late uncle to justify her position.
“I know Martin Luther King in a different way than most folks,” she noted.
Her passion for school choice comes from her father A.D. King, who went to private and public schools himself and sent Alveda to private and public schools. Of her six children, three are still in public elementary schools, two are in college and one is about to enter graduate school.
“Ideally, we should have excellent public schools state-to-state, across the nation,” King said. “Of course, we don’t have that.”
It is the absence of a wealth of good public schools that drives her support of school vouchers. King travels America frequently as chairwoman of the board and founder of a group called King for America Inc. During her travels she has talked to parents, some of whom want to send their children to private, charter or what King called “faith-based” schools. Parents, King believes, should have the power to choose whether they want to send their children to a poor public school or a better private one.
Her position puts her at odds with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which opposes school choice. The position should not be a strange one for King. Her uncle often found himself at odds with NAACP leader Roy Wilkins.
“The NAACP has a right to take any position they feel will help its constituents,” King averred diplomatically. “It appears we’re both on opposite sides of the fence but we’re both concerned about children.”
But the NAACP position puts it at odds with many black parents who aren’t quite poor enough to qualify for an earned income tax credit - which often runs to $2,000 to $3,000 a year and can help with private school tuition - but not affluent enough to pay private school tuitions out of their pockets. King has talked to such people left in the middle and empathizes. King, a divorcee, had to struggle to make tuition payments when her children were in private schools.
After her family’s Birmingham, Ala., home was firebombed in 1963, Alveda King joined her father and uncle on the front lines of the civil rights movement, demonstrating for her people to have the right to choose how they would exercise their rights to vote and choose schools.
Odd, isn’t it, how 34 years later she finds herself opposed on the matter of school choice by a civil rights organization?
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.