Coretta Scott King




C

oretta Scott King, who died
on January 30, 2006 at the age of 78, was a committed activist and
a courageous and visionary person. 


Coretta Scott was born in Heiberger, Alabama. She was exposed at
an early age to the injustices of life in a segregated society.
She walked five miles a day to attend the one-room Crossroad School
in Marion, Alabama while white students rode buses to an all-white
school closer by. Coretta excelled at her studies, particularly
music, and was valedictorian of her graduating class at Lincoln
High School. 


She graduated in 1945 and received a scholarship to Antioch College.
As an undergraduate, she joined the Antioch chapter of the NAACP
and the college’s Race Relations and Civil Liberties committees.
She graduated from Antioch with a BA in music and education and
won a scholarship to study concert singing at the New England Conservatory
of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where she met a theology student,
Martin Luther King, Jr. They were married on June 18, 1953. Coretta
Scott King completed her degree in voice and violin at the New England
Conservatory and the couple moved to Montgomery, Alabama where Martin
Luther King, Jr. had accepted an appointment as pastor of the Dexter
Avenue Baptist Church. 


They were soon caught up in the dramatic events that triggered the
modern civil rights movement. The Montgomery bus boycott drew the
attention of the world to the continued injustice of segregation
in the United States and led to court decisions striking down all
local ordinances separating the races in public transit. 



A

lthough the demands of raising a family had
caused Coretta to retire from singing, she conceived and performed
a series of critically acclaimed Freedom Concerts, combining poetry,
narration, and music to tell the story of the civil rights movement.
Over the next few years, Coretta Scott King staged Freedom Concerts
in many concert venues, as fundraisers for the organization her
husband had founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 


In 1957 the Kings journeyed to Africa to celebrate the independence
of Ghana. In 1959, they made a pilgrimage to India to honor the
memory of Mahatma Gandhi whose philosophy of nonviolence had inspired
them. 


In the 1960s Coretta King was in increasing demand as a public speaker.
She became the first woman to deliver the Class Day address at Harvard
and the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s
Cathedral in London. She served as a Women’s Strike for Peace
delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland
in 1962 and became a liaison to international peace and justice
organizations. 


Following the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968,
Coretta King concentrated on building the Martin Luther King, Jr.
Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In 1969 she published the first
volume of her autobiography,

My Life with Martin Luther King,
Jr

. In 1974 she formed the Full Employment Action Council, a
broad coalition of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil, and
women’s rights organizations dedicated to a national policy
of full employment and equal economic opportunity. 


In 1981 the King Center, the first institution built in memory of
an African American leader, opened to the public. The Center houses
the largest collection of documents from the civil rights era and
has trained tens of thousands of students, teachers, community leaders,
and administrators in the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence. 



C

oretta King continued to serve the cause
of justice and human rights. In 1983 she marked the 20th anniversary
of the historic March on Washington by leading a gathering of more
than 800 human rights organizations, the Coalition of Conscience,
in the largest demonstration the capital city had seen up to that
time. 


Coretta led the successful campaign to establish Dr. King’s
birthday as a national holiday in the United States. In 1985 Coretta
King and three of her children were arrested at the South African
embassy in Washington, DC for protesting against that country’s
apartheid system of racial segregation and disenfranchisement. Ten
years later, she stood with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when
he was sworn in as president of South Africa. 


After 27 years at the helm of the King Center, she turned over leadership
of the Center to her son, Dexter Scott King, in 1995. She remained
active in the causes of racial and economic justice and in her remaining
years devoted much of her energy to AIDS education and curbing gun
violence. She remains an inspirational figure to men and women around
the world.