“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace, and a soul generated by love,”
– Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King was an activist and leader during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. She was also the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King. Although her name is forever linked to Dr. King, Mrs. King was also an activist and pioneer in her own right. After his death, she continued his work for African-American rights. She also became a leader in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the anti-apartheid movement.
King was born in 1927 in Marion, Alabama. Her parents were entrepreneurs, and she inherited her mother’s musical talent. She quickly excelled in this area and became the lead in the school choir in grade school. Mrs. King graduated as valedictorian in high school before heading to Antioch College in Ohio. Here, she received her BA in Music.
Soon after, she received a scholarship to the New England Conservatory in Boston. There, she met doctoral student Martin Luther King Jr. They married in 1953. A year later, she graduated from the Conservatory and moved to Montgomery, Alabama. There, Martin became the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which later became a center for the Civil Rights Movement.
Due to Dr. King’s active participation in the Civil Rights Movement, the couple was a frequent target of white supremacist groups. Throughout this time, King stayed by her husband’s side and raised their four children together. When he was traveling, she often stayed behind to manage their home.
When Dr. King was tragically assassinated on April 4, 1968, Mrs. King continued to support the causes he passionately fought for and advocated. She showed strength and resilience when she marched on a labor strike days after her husband’s funeral. Mrs. King also supported women’s rights and openly spoke against the Vietnam War.
That same year, King established the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, also known as The King Center. It is both a memorial and a nonprofit focused on protecting and advancing her husband’s legacy. She envisioned it as “no dead monument, but a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, a center of human endeavor, committed to the causes for which he lived and died.” The center was active in carrying out educational and community programs until King retired in the 1990s. Today, the King Center is being revitalized to become a more engaged educational and social change institution.
King became well-known worldwide, and she spent time traveling, speaking about racism and economic issues. She also became an author and wrote her memoir, “My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.” King received over 60 honorary doctorates from various colleges and universities. She also helped found numerous organizations, including the Black Leadership Forum and the Black Leadership Roundtable.
Mrs. King was an exceptional leader and one of the most influential African-American figures of her time. In 2006, she passed away from complications from ovarian cancer. She was the first woman and first African-American woman to lie in state at the Georgia Capitol. Her funeral drew several presidents and other heads of state. King lived her life as an example of a woman who stood by her husband, then stood on her own, and continued with his work after he died.
Coretta Scott King was at the forefront of peace, love, and social change. Her legacy lives on and will be continued well into the future.
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