Coretta Scott King
April 1927-30 January 2006)
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
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
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
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
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
Other Comments:. Civil
Rights Icon (NYTimes, 31 January 2006)
posted 31 January 2006
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Coretta Scott King Chronology
- April 27th - Coretta Scott born to Obadiah Scott and Bernice
McMurry Scott in Marion, Alabama.
- Graduated Lincoln High School as valedictorian in May.
- A.B. in Elementary Education and Music from Antioch College.
- Married to Martin Luther King, Jr. on June 18th on the lawn
of the Scott's home. Martin Luther King, Sr. performs ceremony.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- The King's second child, son Martin Luther King III is born.
- 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.
- January 30 - The King's third child, son Dexter Scott King
is born in Atlanta.
- The King's fourth child, daughter Bernice Albertine is born
on March 28th.
28 - Joins her husband at Great March on Washington.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- April 4 - Dr. King assassinated.
8 - Accompanied by her three oldest children, Mrs. King leads
march in Memphis, which Dr. King was scheduled to lead.
- 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
- 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
- Launches fund-raising drive to build Freedom Hall Complex.
- Mrs. King dedicates King Center’s Freedom Hall Complex.
- 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.
October, Mrs. King attended the ceremony at the White House
where President Reagan signs legislation establishing Martin
Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday.
- In July Mrs. King, her son Martin III and her daughter
Bernice are arrested in a protest at the South African Embassy in
- Mrs. King leads first Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday March.
- Serves as chairperson of the Atlanta Committee, which hosts
visit of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Introduces Nelson Mandela to
mass rally in Atlanta.
- Receives Chairman’s Award, Congressional Black Caucus
- Receives Antioch University’s Horace Mann Award
13, 2006 - Mrs. King makes final public appearance at Annual
King Center “Salute to Greatness” Dinner.
30, 2006 - Transition of Mrs. Coretta Scott King
* * *
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