Yolanda King, daughter and eldest child of Martin Luther King Jr., dies at age 51

Yolanda Denise King
Yolanda Denise King

Yolanda Denise King, daughter and eldest child of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has died, said Steve Klein, a spokesman for the King Center.

King died late Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif., at age 51.

Klein said the family did not know the cause of death but that relatives think it might have been a heart problem.

Born in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala., King was just an infant when her home was bombed during the turbulent civil rights era.

As an actress, she appeared in numerous films and even played Rosa Parks in the 1978 miniseries "King." She also appeared in "Ghosts of Mississippi," and founded a production company called Higher Ground Productions.

Her death comes more than a year after the death of her mother, Coretta Scott King.

Action News 5 reporter Ben Watson talked with the Reverend Samuel Billy Kyles, one of the King family's oldest and dearest friends here in Memphis.

In this famous picture taken shortly after Dr. King was assassinated, you can see Reverend  Kyles among those pointing at where the bullet came from.

"I was just knocked off my feet I had no idea," says Kyles.

Kyles expressed shock and sadness that the oldest daughter of his good friend died at the young age of 51.

Looking back, Kyles says Yolanda shared her father's compassion for others and in several ways she reminded him of Dr. King.

Kyles adds, "she was always questioning him, she was very much like him. Yolanda was the one that would ask the deeper questions, she would."

Kyles says Yolanda and the other King children faced incredible challenges growing up as the children of one of the most famous men in the world.

But they always strived to maintain respect and honor their father's name.

Kyles says as MLK's children they were on the front lines of the battle for equality.

"Oh yeah, they marched quite often and the house was bombed," says Kyles.

Kyles says Yolanda's legacy is one that her father would be proud of.

In a statement today family members described Yolanda King as an actress, author and advocate for peace.

A woman - they said - who was known and loved for her inspiration and contributions.

Yolanda King is survived by her sister, the Rev. Bernice A. King; two brothers, Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King; and an extended family.

Arrangements were to be announced later, the family said in a statement.

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