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none of us knows with certainty that the last forty years of her life was one “unloved and passionless,”

 that no man’s arms encircled her since the passing of Martin. Even if that is indeed truth,

I do not find it the worst of all possible worlds.



Remembering Coretta Scott King

(27 April 1927-30 January 2006)

By Rudolph Lewis


A great woman who lived a committed life has passed in the person of Coretta Scott King.  It is unusual for me to speak of the recent dead. The writers of obituaries perform such rites so much better than I. In the 1980s, I was among many who went to Washington to demonstrate in support of making the birthday of her deceased husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a national holiday. In that we were successful.

I first met her in August of 1969 in East Baltimore in a house on Broadway, near Johns Hopkins Hospital. There had been a drive for the previous six months to organize health care workers, primarily black women. There was to be a coming vote for Local 1199, a New York-based health care workers union. A recent college dropout, community activist and SNCC worker, I was involved in a volunteer role in this union drive which I believed was an extension of the civil rights and black consciousness movements.

Mrs. King, still young and beautiful, was invited to Baltimore to encourage Hopkins workers to vote 1199. Before the event, Elliott Godoff, a 1199 official, picked me to act as one of the security persons for the great lady. I stood behind her with a local athlete as workers lined up and shook her hand. It was one of the few great events in which I felt thoroughly honored being in the presence of one of the great ones. It was my first and last time being in her immediate presence.

Local 1199 enjoyed an extraordinary victory at Hopkins and other local hospitals and nursing homes, organizing over 5,000 workers, mostly black women in less then six months. Mrs. King, SCLC, and local organizers played a great part in this campaign success. This victory for Local 1199 was also a victory of all working people in Baltimore. In 1969, health care workers were receiving a mere $1.65 an hour with no health care benefits and no job security. With a two-year contract, wages increased contractually to $4 an hour with health care benefits and a pension plan.

Beyond her support of worker’s rights and a call for an end to poverty, Mrs. King supported sympathetically numerous progressive causes. She, however, was not the intellectually dynamic racial leader that was her husband; neither did she possess his great oratorical skills. She will be remembered most for sustaining the social justice legacy of her martyred husband in the institution of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change. This achievement required great organizational and administrative skills during a time in which she raised her four fatherless children.

Coretta was still a young woman when her husband died. There were moments when I wondered whether it might not have been better for her personally if she had remarried. One friend sent me a note in which she wrote, “I once read a statement by Alice Walker in which she mentioned how some women live with the legends of their men (instead of choosing a life of their own.) I'm glad that Coretta held Martin in her heart all these years.” Another friend wrote, “what a shame that she lived 40 years of her life without a man's arms around her, unloved and passionless.  To me, that's a great loss.”

There was indeed a loss, a great sacrifice that Mrs. King made. Maybe it could not have been otherwise. As William Jelani Cobb pointed out,  “It was Coretta's will that ensured we carried Martin with us, that his vision continues to be spoken of in the present tense.” Of course, none of us knows with certainty that the last forty years of her life was one “unloved and passionless,” that no man’s arms encircled her since the passing of Martin. Even if that is indeed truth, I do not find it the worst of all possible worlds. Of course, I would want for her all the warmth and happiness she desired. Her legacy nevertheless is one that is substantial and should be a model for all committed women and wives.

Other Comments:. Civil Rights Icon (NYTimes, 31 January 2006)

posted 31 January 2006

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Coretta Scott King Chronology

1927 - April 27th - Coretta Scott born to Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurry Scott in Marion, Alabama.

1945 - Graduated Lincoln High School as valedictorian in May.

1951 - A.B. in Elementary Education and Music from Antioch College.

1953 - Married to Martin Luther King, Jr. on June 18th on the lawn of the Scott's home. Martin Luther King, Sr. performs ceremony.

1954 - Receives Mus.B. degree in education with a major in voice and minor in violin from New England Conservatory of Music. Assumes role of pastor's wife at Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

1955 - The King's first child, daughter Yolanda Denise is born on November 17th. December 5th - Montgomery Bus Boycott begins after Rosa Parks arrest on December 1. Dr. King chosen as spokesperson for boycott and to head Montgomery Improvement Association. King home becomes headquarters until official office is opened.

1956 - January 30th - King home bombed while Mrs. King, a church member and baby Yolanda inside. No one is harmed. On December 20th the U.S. Supreme Court ordering desegregation of Montgomery busses reaches Montgomery. Busses are integrated 

1957 - The King's second child, son Martin Luther King III is born.

1960 - The Kings move to Atlanta. Dr. King assumes co-pastorate of Ebenezer Baptist Church and Mrs. King becomes co-first lady of church. In October, Democratic Candidate John F. Kennedy calls Mrs. King to express concern for her husband's safety after he is incarcerated after being sentenced to 6 months hard labor at Georgia's Reidsville State Penitentiary for violating probation on a minor traffic charge by sitting in at the Rich's department store lunch counter in Atlanta. Many historians believe this call gave Kennedy the black vote and his margin of victory in the election. Dr. King is released shortly thereafter.

1961 - January 30 - The King's third child, son Dexter Scott King is born in Atlanta.

1963 - The King's fourth child, daughter Bernice Albertine is born on March 28th.

August 28 - Joins her husband at Great March on Washington.

1964 - Landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 is enacted. In December Mrs. King travels with Dr. King to Oslo, Norway where he receives the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.

1965 - Mrs. King helps Dr. King lead the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights. The Voting Rights Act is passed and signed on August 5th by President Johnson.

1967 - Mrs. King convenes a group of supporters of Dr. King to discuss retrieval of his papers from Boston University and the preservation and plan for a place to house them in Atlanta.

1968 - April 4 - Dr. King assassinated.

April 8 - Accompanied by her three oldest children, Mrs. King leads march in Memphis, which Dr. King was scheduled to lead.

1969 - January 15th - King Center sponsors first birthday celebration in honor of Dr. King at Ebenezer Baptist Church, followed by King Center MLK birthday Observance programs every year afterward. On January 17th Mrs. King announces plans for the programs and buildings of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center.

1973 - As a result of Mrs. King’s initiative. National Park Service declares the area containing Dr. King's birth home, the King Center, his crypt and Ebenezer Baptist Church as a National Historic District.

1974 - Launches fund-raising drive to build Freedom Hall Complex.

1982 - Mrs. King dedicates King Center’s Freedom Hall Complex.

1983 - August 27 - To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Great March on Washington, Mrs. King and King Center convene the New Coalition of Conscience, which brings together 750 organizations in the most massive nonviolent civil and human rights coalition in U.S. history. The number one legislative priority was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday bill, which Congress passed approximately three weeks later. 

In October, Mrs. King attended the ceremony at the White House where President Reagan signs legislation establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday.

1985 - In July Mrs. King, her son Martin III and her daughter Bernice are arrested in a protest at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

1986 - Mrs. King leads first Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday March.

1990 - Serves as chairperson of the Atlanta Committee, which hosts visit of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Introduces Nelson Mandela to mass rally in Atlanta.

1997 - Receives Chairman’s Award, Congressional Black Caucus

2004 - Receives Antioch University’s Horace Mann Award

January 13, 2006 - Mrs. King makes final public appearance at Annual King Center “Salute to Greatness” Dinner.

January 30, 2006 - Transition of Mrs. Coretta Scott King

Source: Funeral Program.pdf 

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