The matriarch has left us
Christine King Farris on April 4, 2018 surrounded by family at her brother's tomb on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

This story has been updated with information about memorial service.

Willie Christine King Farris outlived everyone in her family who was part of her generation – specifically, her two brothers: Martin Luther King Jr. and A.D. King.

On June 29, Mrs. Farris passed away peacefully at the home of her daughter, Angela Christine Farris Watkins.

“If I had to sum up my mother, I think she is the premier example of the power behind the throne,” Isaac Farris said. “That was her legacy.”

Christine King Farris enters the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on her 95th birthday on Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

During a press briefing at the King Center Friday morning, Isaac Farris joined his cousin, Bernice King, to remember the woman who had been through it all.

“I was amazed at her ability to go through all the tragedies she went through but still stand strong,” Bernice King said, remembering her Aunt Christine. “She had every reason to be bitter with what had happened to her brother and her mother.”

In fact, the press briefing on June 30 was exactly 49 years to the day when Christine Farris’ mother – Alberta Williams King – was assassinated while she was playing the organ at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Ave. In 1968, her brother, Martin Luther King Jr., also was assassinated. And in 1969, her other brother, A.D. King, drowned in his swimming pool. Tragedy in her life began at a young age. At 12, she found her grandfather – A.D. Williams – dead in her home.

Bernice King could always count on her aunt’s support through all the ups and downs – when her mother, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006, and when her sister, Yolanda King, died in 2007.

“For me, and I’m sure for Isaac, one of the things that was hard for me, every time she was there,” Bernice said. “She wasn’t there yesterday. There’s a void. Wow, it’s really on us.”

Both Isaac and Bernice talked about the irony that Christine King died on the same day the Supreme Court ruled against two universities being able to consider race a factor when accepting students.

Christine Farris was a proud educator who taught at Spelman College for 48 years.

Christine King Farris with Judy Forte of the National Park Service in August 2013. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“She gave the majority of her life to Spelman College,” Isaac Farris said of his mother, who was the longest-serving faculty member of the historically Black college. She also was the longest-serving member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and she was the person who served the longest on the board of the King Center, which she helped Coretta Scott King develop in honor of her brother.

Isaac Farris said the plans for her memorial service are still in the works. He expects it to happen in about two weeks, but he said there would be a public viewing at the historic Ebenezer and a public viewing at Spelman.

“We are dealing with history,” he said, adding: “It will not be a long funeral.” 

Isaac Farris also made a comparison between his family and the Kennedy family, which he called a political dynasty. Together, the Williams, King, and Farris families were a religious and civil rights dynasty.

“She was there throughout it all,” he said. “Mother was there at every occasion, every march except the March on Washington because of me. She had just given birth to me.”

Bernice King with her cousin, Isaac King Farris, on June 30, talking about their memories of Christine King Farris. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Isaac Farris remembered when his mother was celebrated at her 95th birthday on Sept. 11, 2022.

The birthday celebration was held at Historic Ebenezer, and it was full of music. That will also be an important part of her upcoming service.

Isaac Farris has a special memory of his mother at the celebration.

“At the end of the service, Mother sang, and she sang strong. It was spontaneous,” he said. “My sister picked up the vibe. [Mother] sang for us. It’s important for us to have those types of lasting memories.”

Bernice King said her aunt was comfortable being a quiet presence – not needing to be front and center. Yet she was a force to be reckoned with. 

Christine Farris also was one of the best-dressed women at every occasion, often donning hats that matched her outfit. “Mother has been there for us,” said Isaac Farris, who was overcome with emotion while speaking to members of the press. “The matriarch has left us.”

Bernice King captures her Aunt Christina singing “If I Can Help Somebody” at the end of the 95th birthday celebration. (Photo by Sue Ross.)
Family gathers at King tomb on April 4, 2022. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)
Capturing a moment with Christine King Farris on her 95th birthday. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)
Christine King Farris at the unveiling of her brother’s statue in August 2017. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)
Gail Hollis with Christine King Farris. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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