By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated June 23, 2008 12:00 PM


MAY 25

7 LB. 6 OZ.

Parents-to-be Arndrea and Martin Luther King III—the son of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—wanted a family name for their baby girl. They considered Coretta, after Martin’s late mother. She, too, had been a revered figure in the fight for equality. “We talked about it, but we didn’t want to put that heavy a mantle on her,” says Martin.

In the end, they settled on the name Yolanda for their daughter, after Martin’s older sister, who died of congestive heart failure and was laid to rest May 24, 2007—a year and a day before her namesake was born. That happy event occurred on a Sunday morning, with Martin, 50, his mother-in-law and the baby’s four aunts gathered in the delivery room of an Atlanta hospital, where they prayed and sang gospel songs as Arndrea pushed for 45 minutes. Martin cut the umbilical cord and changed the first diaper. “It’s the circle of life,” he says, “how God blesses people after such loss.”

Martin was only 10 when his father was assassinated at a Memphis motel in 1968. Raised largely by his mother in Atlanta, he has rich memories of his dad, even though the older King’s civil rights work—the history-making demonstrations and marches—often stole him away from home and his four children (second-born Martin was followed by Dexter, now 47, and Bernice, now 45). “Daddy taught me to ride a bike and took Dexter and me to the YMCA, but the cause was demanding,” Martin says. “I don’t remember him ever kneeling with me to pray at bedtime. That was Mother. Now, I can’t wait till my baby is old enough so we can kneel and pray together.”

Baby Yolanda is getting a head start on that. On the little white bookcase in her cotton candy pink nursery are four different illustrated Bibles from which Arndrea, 34, an activist with the Center for Democratic Renewal, which monitors hate crimes, reads to her every day. “We registered for a children’s Bible and got four,” Martin says with a laugh. Above the crib, wooden letters dangling from pink ribbons spell out K-I-N-G. But this is no celebrity baby; no cashmere onesies or baskets of “Oprah‘s favorite things” are among the baby gifts piled against the wall of the dining room in their modestly comfortable suburban home. “That’s not who we are,” says Martin.

While the nation commemorates the 40th anniversary of the assassination of a father-in-law she never knew, Arndrea considers baby Yolanda the best tribute to Dr. King’s legacy. “We’ll raise Yolanda, in faith, to be a good reflection of her grandparents—in whatever way she chooses to do that.” It was losing his mother in January 2006 to ovarian cancer, Martin says, that showed him how deeply he loved Arndrea, a Tallahassee, Fla., native whom he dated for several years (both claim they can’t remember exactly how long) after meeting on a blind date set up by mutual friends and bonding over their shared work on social-justice issues. “As my mother became ill, there were only certain people she wanted around and Arndrea was one of those,” says Martin. Four months after burying his mother, he and Arndrea slipped off to California to get married without fanfare, out of respect for the public mourning for Coretta. That year, Martin also founded a poverty-fighting organization, Realizing the Dream.

Coretta devoted her life to civil rights, but she was also, as her son only learned after her death, a typical mother hoping to be called Grandma. Martin says she never nagged him about producing an heir, but going through her things after her death, he and Arndrea found a tiny white T-shirt printed with the message: “I am special because I’m made by God.” Coretta’s assistant told them she had tucked it away to someday give to a grandchild. “We know our parents were looking down on us when Yolanda was born, but to physically have them here …” Martin trails off. “That’s something I’ll never know.”