Coretta Scott King (April
27, 1927 January 30, 2006) was an American author, activist, and
civil rights leader.
of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Coretta Scott King helped lead the African-American
Civil Rights Movement
in the 1960s.
Mrs. King's most prominent role may have been in the years after
her husband's 1968
when she took on the leadership of the struggle
for racial equality herself and became active in the Women's Movement
Childhood and education
Scott King was the second of three children born to Obadiah "Obie"
Scott (1899-1998) and Bernice McMurray Scott (1904-1996) in
She had an older sister named Edythe, born
in 1925, and a younger brother named Obadiah Leonard, born in 1930.
The Scotts owned a farm, which had been in the family since the
American Civil War
, but were not
particularly wealthy. During the Great
the Scott children picked cotton to help earn money.
Obie was the first black in their neighborhood to own a truck. He
had a barber shop in their home. He also owned a lumber mill
, which was burned down by white
Though uneducated themselves, King's parents intended for all of
their children to be educated. King quoted her mother as having
said, "My children are going to college, even if it means I only
have but one dress to put on." The Scott children attended a one room elementary school from their home and were
later bussed to Lincoln Normal School, a high school in
Alabama, from their home.
The bus was driven by
Bernice Scott, who bussed all the local black teenagers to the
Marion high school, as it was the closest black high
graduated valedictorian of Lincoln Normal School in 1945 and
enrolled at Antioch
College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Edythe Scott already attended Antioch as
part of the Antioch Program for Interracial Education, which
recruited non-white students and gave them full scholarships
in an attempt to diversify the
historically white campus. King said of her first college:
Antioch had envisioned itself as a laboratory in
democracy, but had no black students. (Edythe) became the first
African American to attend Antioch on a completely integrated
basis, and was joined by two other black female students in the
fall of 1943. Pioneering is never easy, and all of us who followed
my sister at Antioch owe her a great debt of
Coretta studied music with Walter Anderson, the first non-white
chair of an academic department in a historically white college.
King also became politically active, due largely to her experience
of racial discrimination
the local school board
became active in the nascent civil rights movement; she joined the
Antioch chapter of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People
the college's Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees. The
board denied her request to perform her second year of required
practice teaching at Yellow Springs public schools, for her
teaching certificate King appealed to the Antioch College
administration, which was unwilling or unable to change the
situation in the local school system and instead employed her at
the college's associated laboratory school for a second year.
transferred out of Antioch when she won a scholarship to the
Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she
met Martin Luther King, Jr. In her early life King was as well
known as a singer as she was as a civil rights activist, and often
incorporated music into her civil rights work.
In 1964, the
profile of Martin
Luther King, Jr., when he was chosen as Time'
s "Man of the Year
", referred to her as
"a talented young soprano."
Dr. and Mrs. King in 1964.
Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr., were married on June 18,
1953, on the lawn of her mothers' house; the ceremony was performed
by King's father, Martin Luther
. After completing her degree in voice and
violin at the New England Conservatory, she moved with her husband
to Montgomery, Alabama in September
The Kings had four children:
All four children later followed in their parents' footsteps as
civil rights activists.
Civil rights movement
Coretta Scott King played an extremely important role in the Civil
Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin wrote of her that,
"I am indebted to my wife Coretta, without whose love, sacrifices,
and loyalty neither life nor work would bring fulfillment. She has
given me words of consolation when I needed them and a well-ordered
home where Christian love is a reality." However, Martin and
Coretta did conflict over her public role in the movement. Martin
wanted Coretta to focus on raising their four children, while
Coretta wanted to take a more public leadership role.
Coretta Scott King took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott
of 1955 and
took an active role in advocating for civil rights legislation.
Most prominently, perhaps, she worked hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Not long after her husband's death, Coretta approached the African American
entertainer and activist
Josephine Baker to take her husband's place as leader of The Civil
Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over Baker
declined, stating that her twelve adopted children (known as the
"rainbow tribe") were " ... too young to lose their mother."
Coretta Scott King decided to take the helm of the movement herself
after her husband's assassination in 1968.
King broadened her focus to include women's rights
, LGBT rights
, economic issues, world
peace, and various other causes. As early as December 1968, she
called for women to "unite and form a solid block of women power to
fight the three great evils of racism
poverty and war," during a Solidarity Day speech.
of the movement, Scott King founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for
Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.
She served as the center's
from its inception until she
passed the reins of leadership to son Dexter Scott King.
She published her memoirs, My Life with Martin Luther King,
, in 1969.
Scott King was also under surveillance by the Federal Bureau
of Investigation from 1968 until 1972.
activities had been monitored during his lifetime. Documents obtained by
a Houston, Texas television
station show that the FBI worried that King would "tie the anti-Vietnam movement to the
civil rights movement."
A spokesman for the King family said
that they were aware of the surveillance, but had not realized how
extensive it was.
After her husband was assassinated on April 4, 1968, she began
attending a commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in
Atlanta to mark her husband's birth every January 15 and fought for
years to make it a national holiday. Murray M. Silver, an Atlanta
attorney, made the appeal at the services on January 14, 1979.
Coretta Scott King later confirmed that it was the "...best, most
productive appeal ever..." King was finally successful in this in
1986, when Martin Luther
King, Jr. Day
was made a federal holiday
Coretta Scott King attended the state
of Lyndon B. Johnson
, in 1973, as a very close friend
of the former president
, himself a
contributor to civil rights.
When President Ronald Reagan
legislation establishing Martin Luther King Day, she was at the
Opposition to apartheid
the 1980s, King reaffirmed her long-standing opposition to apartheid, participating in a series of
sit-in protests in Washington, D.C. that prompted nationwide demonstrations against
South African racial
she traveled to South Africa and met
with Winnie Mandela, while
Mandela's husband Nelson Mandela was
still a political prisoner on
She declined invitations from Pik Botha
and moderate Zulu
chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Upon her return to the United States, she urged Reagan to approve
Peace and other political positions
A long-time advocate for world peace
1957, King was one of the founders of The Committee for a Sane
Nuclear Policy (now called Peace
King was vocal in her opposition to capital punishment
and the 2003 invasion of Iraq
, thus drawing
criticism from conservative
groups. She was also an advocate of feminism
, LGBT rights
1, 1998 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, King called on the civil rights community to join
in the struggle against homophobia and
"Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism
and other forms of bigotry in
that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their
humanity, their dignity and personhood", King stated. "This sets
the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too
easily to victimize the next minority
In a speech in November 2003 at the opening session of the 13th
, organized by the National Gay and Lesbian
, King made her now famous appeal linking the Civil
Rights Movement to the LGBT
agenda: "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."
King's support of LGBT rights was strongly criticized by some black
pastors. She called her critics "misinformed" and said that Martin
Luther King's message to the world was one of equality and
In 2003, she invited the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to
take part in observances of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington
and Martin Luther King's I Have a
speech. It was the first time that an LGBT rights
group had been invited to a major event of the African American
23, 2004, she told an audience at Richard
Stockton College in Pomona, New Jersey, that same-sex
marriage is a civil rights issue.
King denounced a
proposed amendment advanced by President George W. Bush
to the United States
that would ban equal marriage rights for same-sex couples
. In her speech King
also criticized a group of black pastors in her home state of
Georgia for backing a bill to amend that state's constitution to
block gay and lesbian couples from marrying. King is quoted as
saying "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families
should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A
constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of
and it would do nothing at
all to protect traditional marriage."
The King Center
Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, The King Center is the
official memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy and
ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of a nonviolent movement
for justice, equality and peace. She handed the reins as CEO and
president of the King Center down to her son, Dexter Scott King,
who still runs the center today.
Coretta Scott King's temporary
gravesite in Atlanta, Georgia.
By the end of her 77th year, King began experiencing health
problems. Her husband's former secretary, Dora McDonald
, assisted her part time in this
period. Hospitalized in April 2005, a month after speaking in Selma
at the 40th anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Movement
was diagnosed with a heart condition and was discharged on her 78th
and final birthday. Later, King suffered several small strokes. On
August 16 2005, she was hospitalized after suffering a stroke
and a mild heart attack
. Initially, she was
unable to speak or move her right side. She was released from
Hospital in Atlanta on September 22, 2005, after regaining
some of her speech and continued physiotherapy at home.
continuing health problems, King cancelled a number of speaking and
traveling engagements throughout the remainder of 2005. On January
14, 2006, King made her last public appearance in Atlanta at a
dinner honoring her husband's memory.
in the late evening of January 30, 2006 at a rehabilitation center
in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where she
was undergoing holistic
therapy for her stroke and advanced stage ovarian cancer.
The main cause of
King's death, however, is believed to be respiratory
failure due to
complications from ovarian cancer. The clinic at which she died was
called the Hospital Santa Monica, but was licensed as Clinica Santo
Tomas. Newspaper reports indicated that it was not legally licensed
to "perform surgery, take X-rays, perform laboratory work or run an
internal pharmacy, all of which it was doing." It was also founded,
owned, and operated by San
Diego resident, and highly controversial alternative medicine figure, Kurt Donsbach. Days after Mrs.
King's death, the Baja
California, Mexico state
medical commissioner, Dr. Francisco Vera, shut down the
14,000 people gathered for King's eight-hour funeral at the
New Birth Missionary
Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia on February 7, 2006 where daughter Bernice
King, who is an elder at the
church, eulogized her mother.
, whose sanctuary seats 10,000, was
better able to handle the expected massive crowds than Ebenezer
Baptist Church, of which King was a member since the early 1960s
and which was the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral in
U.S. Presidents George W. Bush
, Bill Clinton
, and their wives attended, excepting the Ford
family, which was absent due to illness,
and Barbara Bush
, who had a previous
engagement. Numerous other prominent political and civil rights
leaders, including then-U.S. senator Barack
, attended the televised service.
King was interred in a temporary mausoleum
on the grounds of the King Center until a permanent place next to
her husband's remains could be built. She had expressed to family
members and others that she wanted her remains to lie next to her
husband's at the King Center. On November 20, 2006 the new
mausoleum containing both the bodies of Dr. and Mrs King was
unveiled in front of friends and family. It is the third resting
place of Martin Luther King. Coretta Scott King died on son
President Jimmy Carter
orations. With President George W. Bush seated a few feet away,
Rev. Lowery, referencing King's vocal opposition to the Vietnam War
, noted the failure to find weapons of mass destruction
Iraq. President Carter, referencing King's lifelong struggle for
civil rights, noted that her family had been the target of secret government
. Their somewhat controversial comments were met
with thunderous applause and standing
Recognition and tributes
King was the recipient of various honors and tributes both before
and after her death. She received honorary degrees from many
institutions, including Princeton University, Duke
She was honored by both of her alma maters
in 2004, receiving a Horace Mann Award from Antioch College and an
Outstanding Alumni Award from the New England Conservatory of
In 1970, the American
began awarding a medal named for Coretta
Scott King to outstanding African American writers and illustrators
Many individuals and organizations paid tribute to King following
her death, including U.S. President George W. Bush, the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force, the Human Rights
Campaign, the National Black Justice Coalition, her alma mater
In 2004, Coretta Scott King was awarded the prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize
by the Government of India
In 2007, The Coretta
Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy
opened in Atlanta, Georgia. At its inception, the school served
girls in grade 6 with plans for expansion to grade 12 by 2014.
CSKYWLA is a public school in the Atlanta Public Schools
the staff and students, the acronym for the school's name, CSKYWLA
(pronounced "see-skee-WAH-lah"), has been coined as a protologism
to which this definition has given - "to be empowered by
scholarship, non-violence, and social change." The school is
currently under the leadership of Melody Morgan (Principal) and
April Patton (Dean of Academics).
Upon the news of her death, moments of reflection, remembrance, and
mourning began around the world. In the United States Senate
, Majority Leader
presented Senate Resolution
362 on behalf of all U.S. Senators, with the afternoon hours filled
with respectful tributes throughout the U.S. Capitol.
On January 31, 2006 following a moment of silence in memoriam to
the death of King, the United States House of
presented House Resolution 655 in honor of
King's legacy. In an unusual action, the resolution included a
grace period of five days in which further comments could be added
- Josephine Baker and Joe Bouillon, Josephine. Harper
& Row Publishers, New York, 1977
- Dewan, Shaila. "Dora E. McDonald, 81, Secretary to Martin Luther
King in '60s," New York Times. January 15, 2007.
- How He Did It
- King Memorials Into the Night