Fifty years after the assassination of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr., Reverends Irene Monroe and Emmett G. Price III unpacked King’s legacy through the words and actions of his family members — particularly Bernice King, a minister with a record of fighting against LGBTQAI+ rights.

The following except has been edited for clarity. Click on the audio player above to hear the full segment.

IRENE: One of the most renowned comments that she made was [when] the now-deceased Eddie Long did a march in Atlanta to deny gay marriage, they were anti-gay marriage and what she said at one point when they went over to the King Center and she made her statement, she says, “I know deep down in my sanctified soul that he [Martin Luther King, Jr.] did not take a bullet for same-sex unions.”

IRENE: The sad thing about it, if you know anything about Coretta Scott King, her mother, she always was inclusive of LGBT, in terms of King’s theology and just moving forward around understanding that Christianity in an of itself always underlines itself with progressive thoughts and movements to be inclusive of the folks who have been left out.

MARGERY: Who was that guy, Bayard Rustin, who was gay and sheltered because people were worried about his being gay, but he was certainly a big part of the whole ...

EMMETT: He planned the whole March on Washington and was asked to not speak, and really to not be there.

MARGERY: But there was an acceptance in the inner circle, among King, was there not?

IRENE: No, there was not.

MARGERY: So they pretended he wasn’t gay?

EMMETT: They pretended he didn’t exist.

IRENE: What happened was, Adam Clayton Powell, particularly being King’s nemesis, was annoyed that he wasn’t the “chosen one” for the civil right’s movement … he said that [he would use King’s] association with Bayard Rustin to say that [King] was also having a liaison with Bayard Rustin, so [King] had to intentionally, given the hysteria that moved across the entire civil rights movement … he had to distance himself from Bayard Rustin.

JIM: Let me propose a rule in American life: That no one, even if you’re the kid, should be allowed to say what his or her position would be on any issue. Not only does no one know what they would do, but it’s so totally presumptuous.

IRENE: But then you would have to argue that about Coretta Scott King, you would have to negate her advocacy in using King’s message …

JIM: ...except for her. Except for her! [laughs]

MARGERY: She was advocating in her own right, too. She was a young woman when he died.

IRENE: I think what she did was that every progressive movement moving forward, in terms of MLK, she showed the connection, and we do see it too, in terms of his words, but not so much of his actions. Sometimes I think that when you look at the King family, they give a really mixed message, because Alberta King becomes the poster woman for the ultra-right movement — anytime they need a black token to come out …

EMMETT: Or her son, too.

IRENE: It runs in the family, I guess.

MARGERY: The family is divided.

EMMETT: Like all families.

JIM: Which is fine, but again, if they have positions, that’s their business, but to use your father, one of the most respected figures in American history, to make whatever you point is … to me that crosses the line.

IRENE: I call it heresy, I actually thought it was heresy of reading King’s words. I also thought that Bernice particularly, being eight years old when her father died — she’s 58 now, this is the 50th anniversary of his assassination — could not possibly interpret him enough to know.

EMMETT: To her credit, she does have access to the stories that her mother would have told her about her father or another relative, so we just don’t know. I just think interpretation is always challenging, so everyone should have the opportunity to have their opinion, particularly if you are a child, or whatnot. But when you use it to disparage another population of people, I think that’s when it gets really dangerous.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. Emmett Price is a professor and executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.