Yolanda King echoes her legendary grandfather’s powerful speech nearly 50 years after he was shot dead.
There is a nook in the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr into which his nine-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda, likes to squeeze herself.
This is as close as the only grandchild of the civil rights leader can get to cuddling the grandad she never got to meet.
“I say, ‘Now I can sit on Papa King’s lap.’ That’s what I missed out on doing,” she explains, childishly.
But nearly 50 years after the legendary black leader was shot dead by James Earl Ray, on April 4, 1968, Yolanda went to Washington, DC with a far from childish purpose.
Last Saturday, she echoed Papa King’s dream for a world of non-violence with a dream of her own – a world without guns.
She cut a tiny figure amid the crowds of 800,000 people in the capital for the March For Our Lives, demanding gun law reform in the wake of the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The plucky girl addressed the throngs, including Sir Paul McCartney and wife Nancy Shevell, in rousing terms used by her grandad.
“I have a dream that enough is enough,” Yolanda said. “Spread the word, have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.”
There could surely be no more meaningful 50-year commemoration of Dr King.
This was the city where he voiced his I Have a Dream speech in 1963 to 250,000 avid supporters. This was a march proudly reminiscent of his peaceful civil rights demonstrations, often met with vitriol and violence.
Days before sharing her dream, speaking in her home in Atlanta, Georgia – just a few miles from the wooden house where Baptist minister Dr King grew up – Yolanda recites for me the most famous section of his speech.
In a room dotted with photographs of its composer, she also tells me: “My dream is this country should be gun-free. Everywhere in the world should be.
“They are machines to hurt people, why would you want to do that?
“We do lockdown drills at school, and the teachers bring out the safety books and tell us what to do if someone bad comes to school. It is frightening sometimes.
“One time I had a dream about bad people coming to my school and hurting people. They had guns.”
I ask if teachers carrying guns, as America’s President Donald Trump is suggesting, would make her feel safer.
Her response is a childish giggle, but her words pure wisdom. “That’s just nuts,” she replies in a flash.
Her father, Martin Luther King III, Dr King’s eldest son, nods.
“A nine-year-old says it clearer than anyone,” he mutters.
He had no hesitation about taking his daughter to Washington to deliver her speech last week.
This was Yolanda’s tribute to the man who helped end black segregation with an ethos of peace and love; who threw away his gun in the face of death threats, allowed himself to be battered by white police officers, and encouraged his children to burn their toy pistols.
“I was probably five or six when I went to my first demonstration with Dad,” Yolanda’s father, married to Arndrea Waters King, recalls.
“My father would definitely take up this [gun] issue,” he adds. “But then had he lived, I think the issue would have been resolved already. We would be in a different place.”
It is hard to imagine the world today if a gun had not claimed the life of Dr King, as he stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39.
The Nobel Prize winner, who began his campaign for civil rights with bus boycotts against segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, had suspected he would be killed.
“Every now and then one of us would pick up the phone at home and people would make very nasty threats using the n-word, or tell us to ‘get out’,” his son recalls.
Martin, who had an older sister Yolanda and younger siblings Dexter and Bernice, was always aware of the danger his dad was in.
When he was 10, he and his siblings begged their father not to go on that fateful trip to Memphis.
“We were saying to him, ‘Daddy, please do not go’. We were holding on to his pants’ leg pleading, ‘Please don’t leave, Daddy’.”
Yet Dr King never wavered from a message of peaceful protest.
Throughout Yolanda’s home there are signs of that ethos everywhere. “Love Lives Here” reads a sign in the kitchen.
Yolanda tells me she struggles not to feel bitter about Papa King’s murder. “Sometimes I even cry about it,” she says.
“Sometimes I really want to get angry, even though I know if I get angry at the person who shot my grandfather it will just cause more hate in the world.”
She can’t remember a time she didn’t know “Papa King changed the world”. She adds: “My grandfather has changed my life. He was sacrificing for kids like me to go to school with white children. That is kind of amazing.
“My friend is white. That is normal. Back then, just because your skin was darker than someone else’s, you couldn’t eat at the same restaurant, which is really silly if you think about it.”
But King, to Yolanda, is not just One Of The 100 People Who Shaped Our World, as the book on the coffee table states. She has a photo of a grinning Dr King larking about on a child’s bicycle. She lovingly winds a music box with a photo of him in the centre.
Yolanda, whose gran Coretta Scott King also died before she was born, adds: “My parents told me that when I was a baby, I’d tell them I could talk to my grandparents.” On Wednesday, she will travel to Memphis for anniversary commemorations.
This will be her first trip, and she’s nervous. “I don’t want to go,” she whispers to her dad. He admits he used to feel the same; he didn’t go for 15 years. “I only cried on my own, I held a lot in.”
But now he has found peace. With quiet but incredible force, he adds: “I don’t feel anger any more. I’ve forgiven the shooter.”
Yolanda looks forward to celebrating her grandad’s legacy with what the family call Star Day.
“We have special lights that say ‘Love’, we eat his favourite foods and listen to his Motown music. And there’s cake on Star Day,” she says, beaming. “Pound cake, that was his favourite.”
Beneath the small shoulders carrying such a hefty legacy, Yolanda is just a little girl who missed out on knowing Papa.