The Rev. Vernon C. King, senior pastor of St. James Baptist Church in Greensboro and a nephew of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died unexpectedly Friday. He was 48.

The cause of his death was not immediately announced.

Vernon King was the youngest son of Martin Luther King Jr.’s only brother, A.D. King Sr. He was a graduate of Morehouse College and had been pastor of several churches in Georgia and North Carolina.

Vernon King served on the boards of the King Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization his uncle helped found.

Vernon King had been pastor at St. James for eight years.

He was only seven when his famous uncle was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tenn, in 1968. His own father, the Rev. Albert King, died the following year, and his grandmother was shot and killed years later as she played the organ during a church service.

According to the News & Record of Greensboro, Vernon King spoke of those deaths last year on the 40th anniversary of his uncle’s assassination, saying he once wondered if there was a “King curse.”

“I went to my pastor and I questioned God,” Vernon King was quoted as saying. “I said, ‘Why is it that we are having a family member die probably on average every four years, and my friends, who don’t go to church, their family is still alive?’

“But I began to understand that death is a part of life,” he said.

Several St. James members told the News & Record that Vernon King died at his home after going to bed.

He had been hospitalized recently but said he was doing well, church members said.

“To me he was like a brother and to all of our family, he will remain forever dear in our hearts,” cousin Martin Luther King III said Saturday in a written statement.

Vernon King was born in Atlanta and graduated with a degree in religion from Morehouse College.

He previous led churches in Fairmont and Augusta, Ga. He also served as a chaplain for the Georgia prison system and hosted a Christian radio talk-show in the early 1990s.

He is survived by his wife, Robin Scott King, and daughters, Victoria Chelsea and Venus Chantel of the home.

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