Coretta Scott King stood by her husband, then carried on their fight
Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul. – Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., did stand beside her famous husband during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and worked tirelessly by his side for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. As we recall the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr., we should also pay homage to the woman beside him who was educated, dedicated and a civil rights activist in her own right.
Coretta Scott King was a talented musician and the valedictorian of her class at Lincoln High School in Marion, Alabama. In college, she earned degrees from Antioch College and the New England Conservatory in music (voice and violin) and education. She met her future husband while at the New England Conservatory in Boston where he was a theology student at Boston University.
Together, they raised a family with four children while actively pursuing social change. Coretta Scott King retired from singing to raise her family, but she continued to use her talents for the greater good by organizing Freedom Concerts that joined music, poetry and narration to teach about the Civil Rights Movement. These concerts, held around the nation at some of the best concert venues, helped fund the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by her husband.
Yes, King did stand beside her husband promoting civil rights and striving to make the world a better place—right up until April 4, 1968 when James Earl Ray sought to silence Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee. After his assassination, Coretta Scott King kept their dreams and work alive. She created the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia where she served as president and CEO until her son, Dexter, assumed its leadership in 1995.
Coretta Scott King believed passionately in their mission and fought for 15 years to establish Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday. In 1986, by an Act of Congress, Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday became a national holiday. Over 100 countries now hold celebrations to commemorate his birthday.
- Coretta Scott King was present, by President Clinton’s invitation, at the signing of the Middle East Peace Accords in 1993 with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yassir Arafat.
- She gave speeches in his stead when Dr. King was unavailable.
- She was arrested in 1985 at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C., for protesting against South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation.
- She stood with Nelson Mandela 10 years later when he was sworn in as President of South Africa in Johannesburg.
- She published her memoir, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1969.
- She published a syndicated column and wrote articles about social issues.
- She was a regular commentator on CNN.
- Coretta Scott King was a liaison to peace and justice organizations and served as a public mediator.
- The Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame inducted Coretta Scott King in 2009.
- She was the first African-American to lie in Georgia State Capitol upon her death.
Coretta Scott King supported LGBT rights and spoke openly about the perils of oppressing any group of people. She said, when addressing the 13th annual Creating Change Conference in 2003, “I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. … But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
Perhaps the best measure of a life’s work is the desire of others to continue it after one dies. Undoubtedly, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King have passed that test. Coretta Scott King said, “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” Carry on, in honor of them both.13