Coretta Scott King

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Coretta Scott King

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Coretta Scott King
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Coretta Scott King

  • Born: 27 April 1927
  • Birthplace: Marion, Alabama
  • Died: 30 January 2006 (ovarian cancer)
  • Best Known As: The wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coretta Scott King was the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.. The couple met in Boston, where Coretta Scott was studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music; they were married on 18 June 1953. The family moved to Montgomery, Alabama and then to Atlanta as Dr. King became a civil rights leader and a prominent public figure. After Dr. King's assassination in 1968, Coretta King established the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta; she also supported the establishment of a national holiday in honor of her husband, an idea which became law in 1986. Coretta and Martin Luther King had four children: Yolanda (born 1955), Martin Luther III (b. 1957), Dexter (b. 1961), and Bernice (1963).

In 1969 the American Library Association (ALA) created the annual Coretta Scott King award to honor children's book authors and illustrators of African descent.

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Biography: Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) was the wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. She gained an international reputation as an advocate of civil rights, nonviolence, international peace, full employment, and equal rights for women.

Coretta Scott was born on April 27, 1927, in Perry County, Alabama, into a family that had owned land since the Civil War. Her parents, Obadiah and Bernice Scott, were truck farmers. Even though the Scotts were better off financially than most Blacks in the area, life for them and their three children was difficult. Scott, along with her mother and sister, tended the family garden and crops, fed the chickens and hogs, and milked the cows. She helped supplement the family income by hiring out to hoe and pick cotton.

School Years

According to King, her "early schooling was affected by the system of segregation." She walked, rain or shine, six miles a day to and from school, while white students were bused to better facilities and teachers. After completing six grades at the elementary school that "did not do much to prepare" her, Coretta Scott enrolled in Lincoln High School in Marion, Alabama. Lincoln, a semiprivate American Missionary Association institution, "was as good as any school, white or black, in the area," said King. She developed an interest in music at Lincoln and, with encouragement from her teachers, decided that music would be her career.

In 1945 Scott graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and won a partial scholarship to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Eager to leave southern racial hostility, Coretta Scott enrolled at Antioch only to discover that prejudice and racism were very much alive there too. Being the first Black to major in elementary education at Antioch created problems for the Scott. Such a major required a two-year internship - one year in the Antioch private elementary school and the other in the Ohio public schools. The year at the Antioch school where Scott taught music went well. The Yellow Springs School Board, however, refused to allow Scott to teach in its school system. The student body was integrated but the faculty was white. Given the option of going to Xenia, Ohio, and teaching in an all-Black school or remaining at the Antioch private school for a second year, she chose the latter.

Discrimination made Scott more determined than ever. She joined the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a race relations committee, and a civil liberties committee. According to the young college student, "I was active on all of them. From the first, I had been determined to get ahead, not just for myself, but to do something for my people and for all people. I took to my heart the words of Horace Mann, 'Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."'

Scott's undergraduate years at Antioch were rewarding ones, despite her unfortunate practice-teaching experience. Her time there reaffirmed and strengthened the value of giving and sharing that had been instilled at her home and at Lincoln High School. She learned to strive for excellence, crediting the school with reinforcing her belief "that individuals as well as society could move toward the democratic ideal of brotherhood." At Antioch, Scott developed into a strong Black woman, confident that she could compete with "all people of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds" on their terms or on her own. She claimed that "the total experience of Antioch" was an important element in preparing her for the role as wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. and for her part in the movement he led.

Marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr

Coretta Scott realized at Antioch that she wanted to continue in music and to develop her voice to its fullest potential. She subsequently enrolled in the New England Conservatory in Boston, graduating in 1954 with a bachelor's degree in music. It was in Boston that she met Martin Luther King, Jr. They were married on June 18, 1953. Her decision to marry the young minister meant giving up her career as a performing concert artist.

In 1954 the Kings moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to pastor the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and it was here that they were thrust into the leadership of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was recognized as the leader of the movement, but Coretta Scott King, too, was very much a part of it. She was actively involved in the organizing and planning and in the marches and boycotts. Her life, too, was endangered. She gave "Freedom Concerts" to raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and for the movement and gave speeches all over the country, often standing in for her husband.

A Worthy Successor

After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, Coretta Scott King continued to serve the civil rights movement. Four days after the violent murder of her husband, the grieving widow and three of her four children returned to Memphis to lead the march Martin had organized. In June of 1968 she spoke at the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C., a rally her husband had been enthusiastically planning before his death, and in May of 1969 she led a demonstration of striking hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina.

In addition to her role in the civil rights movement, King was active in the peace movement; she deemed the Vietnam War "the most cruel and evil war in the history of mankind." In 1961, as a delegate from the Women's Strike for Peace, she attended a 17-nation disarmament conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Later King was concerned with full employment, testifying in Washington in favor of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1976, and in seeking equal rights and economic justice for women.

The recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, Coretta Scott King chaired and cochaired several national committees and continued to serve on the board of directors of the SCLC. She also was president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change, located in Atlanta, Georgia, and continued to lobby for world peace, full employment, and social justice. The Kings' youngest son, Dexter Scott King, took over as chairman and CEO of the King Center in 1995.

Coretta Scott King and Dexter Scott King asked for a new trial for James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing Martin Luther King, Jr. The King family, along with author William F. Pepper, have raised suspicions that a government plot was involved and that Ray did not act alone.

Black Biography: Coretta Scott King

civil rights activist; writer; singer

Personal Information

Born Coretta Scott, April 27, 1927, in Marion, AL; died January 30, 2006; daughter of Obadiah and Bernice (McMurray) Scott; married Martin Luther King, Jr. (a Baptist minister and civil rights leader), June 18, 1953 (died April 4, 1968); children: Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, Bernice Albertine.
Education: Antioch College, A.B. 1951; New England Conservatory of Music, Mus.B. 1954.
Religion: Baptist.
Memberships: National Council of Negro Women, Women's Strike for Peace, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, NAACP, Martin Luther King, Jr., Foundation (president).


Concert singer, activist, lecturer, author. Debuted as singer in Springfield, OH, 1948; delegate to White House Conference on Children and Youth, 1960; Women's Strike for Peace delegate to disarmament conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 1962; Morris Brown College, Atlanta, GA, voice instructor, 1962; Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., Atlanta, founding president and chief executive officer, 1969--; Cable News Network, Atlanta, commentator, 1980--. Board member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Life's Work

On April 8, 1968, four days after her husband, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was brutally gunned down by assassin James Earl Ray on the balcony of a Memphis motel, Coretta Scott King flew to that city to take her husband's place at the head of the march for nonviolent social change. After the march, King rose and eloquently addressed the crowd, urging them to join with her in pursuing her husband's dream: "And those of you who believe in what Martin Luther King, Jr., stood for, I would challenge you today to see that his spirit never dies.... From this moment on we are going to go forward. We are going to continue his work to make all people truly free and to make every person feel that he is a human being."

Since that day King has herself emerged as one of the most charismatic and forceful civil rights leaders in the United States. She founded and serves as president of the $10 million Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta; she also gave hundreds of speeches everywhere from churches to college campuses, traveled the world over to meet with international, national, and local leaders to discuss race relations and human rights, written her autobiography, and edited a book of Dr. King's quotations.

Coretta Scott was born April 27, 1927, into an America where--simply because of the color of their skin--black people were often taught in impoverished, segregated schools, denied access to hotels and restaurants and hospitals, and beaten and imprisoned at the slightest real or imagined offense. Coretta was the second of three children born to Obadiah and Bernice Scott of Heiberger, Alabama, nine miles outside of Marion. The Scotts raised their children on a farm that had been in their family since the Civil War. Though it was rare for black people to own land in the South at that time, the Scotts were not affluent. They were especially hard hit economically during the Depression years of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Coretta herself hoed and picked cotton to earn money for the family. Obie Scott raised garden vegetables, hogs, cows, and chickens on the farm and drove a taxi to supplement the family income. When he invested his savings in a sawmill of his own, it mysteriously burned to the ground after just two weeks.

Disillusioned but undefeated, Mr. Scott then became the first black man in his community ever to own a truck. He hauled lumber, an occupation which brought him into direct competition with white men, who grew more and more threatened by him as the availability of jobs declined. He was frequently stopped on the highway and harassed at gunpoint. Nonetheless, he eventually opened a country store. Mr. Scott had a sixth-grade education, which was considerable for a black man of his generation, and according to her friend and biographer Octavia Vivian, Coretta wondered later how much he might have achieved if he had the opportunity to earn a high school diploma.

Coretta's mother, Bernice, was the person from whom Coretta inherited both her musical talent and her desire for an education. Though she had only a fourth-grade education herself, Mrs. Scott insisted that her daughters attend college even if each had only one dress to wear. Thanks to her dedication and to some scholarship assistance, the Scotts were able to send all three of their children to college at once. Coretta's older sister Edythe was the first full-time black student ever to live on the campus of Antioch College. (After two years there, however, Edythe transferred to Ohio State University, which had a more racially diverse student body.) Obie Leonard, Coretta's younger brother, became a minister after attending Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, for two years.

An unusually sensitive and intelligent child, Coretta learned early on to recognize discrimination. Her first six years of education were spent at the Crossroads School, a one-room frame schoolhouse where just two teachers taught all six grades. Each day during the five-mile walk from their home to Crossroads, Coretta and her sister and brother were passed on the road by the school bus carrying the white children to their school in Marion.

This experience, among others, awakened in Coretta an awareness of racial injustices and a sense of mission to end discrimination. She firmly believed herself destined to some sort of work that would help to improve the condition of oppressed people, especially those "black and deprived" as she had been, she told Ebony.

For a long time King thought that she would make her contribution through music. After graduating from Crossroads at the top of her classes, King went on to Lincoln High School in Marion, a private missionary school where, for the first time, she encountered college-educated teachers, both black and white. At Lincoln she began to develop her musical talent. She played the trumpet and piano and sang in the chorus, appearing as a soloist in a number of school recitals and musicals. Her high school music teacher, Olive J. Williams, is credited with inspiring her to consider music as a career.

Because Lincoln was ten miles away, Coretta and the other black students from her area had to leave home early Monday morning and could not return until the weekend. Coretta's mother, displaying the same calm determination that has stood King herself in good stead throughout her public life, decided that the children should not have to be away from home for such long stretches of time. She secured a bus and every school day drove all of the children herself the ten miles each way to and from school--an unheard-of activity for a woman in those days.

In 1945, King graduated first in her high school class and enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She had been granted a partial scholarship by the college's Race Relations Committee. Though she was at first anxious about adjusting to the alien environment of the northern school and about competing with the white students, who, on the whole, were better prepared for higher education, she also realized the advantages of attending college in the North: northern schools were generally considered academically superior to those in the South. King decided to major in elementary education and in music.

While at Antioch, King participated in the college's challenging cooperative work-study program, in which students alternated a period of work with a period of study. As a work-study student she served the community in various roles, including that of nursery school attendant, camp counselor, and library assistant. Despite her earlier fears, she found most of her many opportunities at Antioch rewarding and challenging. She apparently did not encounter overt racial prejudice at the college until it came time for her to student teach.

Customarily, Antioch's education students were placed in the Yellow Springs, Ohio public school district to practice teach, but those schools had no black teachers at that time. The supervisor of the program asked King to agree either to travel nine miles away to an all-black school to teach or to teach at the Antioch Demonstration School. Frustrated, King decided to take a stand about her right to teach in the public schools, regardless of her race.

She took her complaint all the way to the president of the college, but to no avail. Even her fellow students refused to support her, fearing that to do so would cost all of them their practice-teaching positions and ultimately their degrees. Bitterly disappointed to discover the shallowness of Antioch's commitment to integration, King decided to accept the compromise position at the Antioch Demonstration School and strengthened her resolve to quietly but firmly resist racial injustices.

Meanwhile, King's interest in music was growing. She added violin to her repertoire of musical instruments and sang in the choir at the Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Ohio, where she gave her first solo concert in 1948. Concerts in Pennsylvania and Alabama followed, and she began to consider continuing her musical education after college. The chairman of the music department at Antioch encouraged her to apply to Boston's New England Conservatory of Music and to the Smith Noyes Foundation for fellowship support.

By the time she graduated in June of 1951, King had been accepted at the conservatory. She decided to give up her plans to become a teacher and to pursue a career on the concert stage. Although her tuition was fully covered by the fellowship, King still had to earn her room and board. She had already arranged to rent a room in the home of a wealthy Massachusetts family, contributors to a special interracial scholarship fund. When she arrived in Boston, she further arranged to clean the fifth floor of the house, which she shared with two other students, and two stairways, in exchange for her bed and breakfast. Without money for dinner, though, she was forced to survive on the foods she could afford, like crackers, peanut butter, and fruit. As biographer Vivian put it, King "was in the unique position of living at one of the wealthiest addresses in America and starving."

Later her financial situation began to improve. The Urban League found her a job as a file clerk at a mail-order firm, and after her first year, she began receiving out-of-state aid from her homestate of Alabama. This aid was provided for black students barred by segregation from attending white institutions in-state. King studied voice with retired opera star Marie Sundelius at the conservatory and also sang with the chorus and the Old South Choir.

While King was studying at the conservatory, another voice student introduced her to a young minister from Atlanta who was studying for a doctorate in theology at Boston University. Coretta Scott's first meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., went badly; he overwhelmed the rather reserved young woman by hinting at marriage on that very first date. Nonetheless, they continued to see each other. Coretta was impressed with King's drive and his concern for the underprivileged. His feelings seemed so similar to her own. But she wondered if--with his solidly middle-class background--he could ever really understand the poverty he hoped to help alleviate. Moreover, as he continued to press her about marriage, she was forced to wrestle with the thought of giving up her dream of becoming a concert singer.

In the end, King and Scott's many similarities won out over their differences. Both had been precocious children, voracious readers, and excellent students. Both had fathers whose willingness to stand up for justice for blacks in the South had impressed their children deeply. Scott and King were married on the lawn of Coretta's parents' home in Heiberger by the Reverend King, Sr., on June 18, 1953. After the wedding, the couple returned to Boston to complete their educations. King was then offered positions at two Northern churches, two Southern churches, and three schools. They chose to accept the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and moved there in September of 1954.

On December 1, 1955, a black seamstress named Rosa Parks sat down in the first row reserved for black people at the back of a public bus in Montgomery. She had worked all day and was tired. When the bus pulled up to the Empire Theater stop, a crowd of white people boarded. Following the laws and customs of the segregated South, the bus driver stood up and asked the black people to move further toward the back of the bus. Three other people moved immediately, but Rosa Parks remained in her seat. When she refused once again to move, a policeman was summoned, and she was arrested for defying segregation laws. Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the Montgomery bus boycott in protest, and the civil rights movement was born. A year later, as a result of the phenomenally successful boycott, the Supreme Court declared Alabama's bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

The Kings' first child, Yolanda Denise, fondly nicknamed "Yoki" by her father, had been born just two weeks before the beginning of the boycott in 1955. The couple went on to have three more children. As Dr. King became more and more deeply involved in his nonviolent civil rights crusade, the burden of raising the children as well as a great deal of administrative work for the movement fell to Coretta. She handled the mail and phone calls from his office in their home, including the increasing number of threats on her husband's life.

Robert Johnson, in a 1991 article for Jet, recalled an anecdote once related by Martin Luther King about his wife: their phone had rung in the middle of the night. A sleepy Coretta picked it up to hear an angry voice on the other end of the line snarl: "I want to speak to that nigger who's running the bus boycott!" Calmly she replied, "My husband is asleep and does not wish to be disturbed. He told me to write the name and number of anyone who called to threaten his life so that he could return the call in the morning when he wakes up fresh." Indeed, King remained outwardly calm even when her husband was actually stabbed at a book signing in New York City by a black woman who was later institutionalized for mental incompetence. Splitting her time in the city between his hospital room and a temporary office that was set up for her there, King maintained the smooth operation of the civil rights movement.

King's grace under pressure did not desert her even when the family's home in Montgomery was bombed. She, a friend from church, and Yolanda, then an infant, were the only ones home at the time of the incident, and no one was hurt. But from that moment on, King was acutely aware of the constant danger they faced. The harassment, the jailings, the bombings, and the threats terrified all of them. King realized that she could never find a way to live with such terror; she could either turn her back on their life's work, or banish the fear. She claimed in her autobiography that from then on she lived without fear but held onto the knowledge that death could come to any one of them because of their work to end racial injustice.

During this time King also pursued a number of activities independent of her husband's work. Aside from fulfilling the speaking engagements that he could not keep, she taught voice in the music department of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, where they had moved in 1960, when Martin assumed the co-pastorate of the Ebenezer Baptist Church alongside his father. In addition, King was a Women's Strike for Peace delegate at the Disarmament Conference attended by representatives of seventeen nations and held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1962. Moreover, she made use of her artistic talents by developing and performing in the Freedom Concert, which featured readings, music, and poetry narrating the history of the civil rights movement. Proceeds from the very successful program were contributed to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Dr. King was then head.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April of 1968, his wife's commitment to civil rights faced its most severe trial yet. She was, however, better prepared for such a loss than most people would be, both because of her strong religious faith and because she had long ago confronted the dangers inherent in her husband's work. In the days and weeks that followed his death, she calmed the anger and despair of King followers and urged recommitment to the philosophy of nonviolence. She walked in his place at marches and spoke at civil rights and anti-Vietnam War rallies. Gradually she came to be seen as the worthy successor to Dr. King and a leader and symbol of the civil rights struggle.

In 1969 she announced plans for the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change in King's hometown of Atlanta. In the decades since the assassination, she has worked tirelessly to raise funds for the complex, which began in the basement of her home in Atlanta but now covers three full blocks near the Ebenezer Baptist Church. The center houses offices, Dr. King's elevated marble crypt surrounded by a 100-foot long reflecting pool, and the Freedom Hall meeting facility, containing a 3000-seat auditorium, conference rooms, a cultural center, and the King Library and Archives. One and a half million visitors stroll down the arch-covered Freedom Walk each year. The center has an annual budget of $3.2 million and employs more than 60 people. Its library serves five thousand scholars annually, who come to peruse the more than one million documents of the civil rights movement held there, including the personal papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By 1995, King had stepped down as chairman and CEO of the King Center, passing the job to her youngest son, Dexter King.

The King Center also sponsors programs in voter education and registration, literacy, the performing arts, early childhood education, and internships for college students from around the world who come to learn effective means of nonviolent social protest. A Federal Bureau of Prisons Project, which is a conflict-resolution training program for prison personnel, a Single Parents Program providing job training, housing assistance, and counseling services, and a Black Family Project, which studies the crises facing black families and coordinates resources to alleviate them, are among the innovative programs the center offers.

In addition, the center launched the petition campaign in favor of making Dr. King's birthday a national holiday. The drive for a holiday began soon after his death and was led by a coalition of black leaders, legislators, and entertainers. Six million signatures were collected and presented to U.S. Congress. After a decade and a half of demonstrations, lobbying, letter-writing campaigns, speeches, and marches--including one attended by several hundred thousand people commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Dr. King's March on Washington--the holiday proponents finally won out. On November 2, 1983, under pressure from black politicians in his own party, then-President Ronald Reagan finally signed the bill designating the third Monday in January as the King Holiday, beginning in 1986.

In 1983, King coordinated the Coalition of Conscience, which sponsored the 20th Anniversary March on Washington. In 1985, she was arrested along with three of her children at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C., in a protest against apartheid. In 1987, she was one of the leaders in the "Mobilization Against Fear and Intimidation" in Forsyth County, Ga. In 1988, she re-convened the Coalition of Conscience for the 25th Anniversary March on Washington. She was in the news again in 1997, calling for a new trial for her husband's convicted killer, James Earl Ray, who died the following year in prison without receiving a new trial. King was among those who believed that Ray was not the true killer, instead adhering to the conspiracy theory that a government intelligence agency committed the crime and used him as a patsy to cover it up.

As evidenced by her support for reform in South Africa, King has supported civil rights and freedom for people the world over. In March 2004, while speaking at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, King spoke out in support of the right of same-sex couples to marry. The issue had come to a head in the early months of 2004, with same-sex couples lining up outside courthouses across the country asking to be legally married in civil ceremonies. She called it a civil rights issue.

In the mid-to late-1990s, the King family drew sharp criticism for their handling of the center and King's legacy, at the core of which was a feud with the National Park Service over a proposed visitors center across the street from the King center. The King family planned to open an interactive museum and felt the Park Service plan would interfere. The two sides came to an agreement, and the Park Service opened their facility in 1996, but the King family did not go forward with their ideas. By 1999, the King family was again under fire for maintaining tight control over the Martin Luther King, Jr., image and his works, as well as for reaping generous profits off of the rights. But neither King nor her son would comment on any such controversy.

On January 30, 2006, King passed away in her sleep. She was 78 and had been in failing health since suffering a stroke and heart attack in August of 2005. King had appeared at a Martin Luther King Day dinner on Jan. 14, 2006, but did not speak.

King was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Dag Hammarskjold Award, 1969; the UAW Social Justice Award, 1980; and the Eugene V. Debs award, 1982. She was awarded more than 40 honorary degrees by academic institutions. She was the author of three books, and wrote a nationally syndicated column. She also served as the head of the delegation of the "Women for a Meaningful Summit" in Athens, Greece, and the "Soviet-American Women's Summit" in Washington, D.C., in anticipation of the Reagan-Gorbachov talks. Among the dozens of committees she founded or served on are Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable. In her honor, the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round Table each year recognizes distinguished contributions to children's literature by awarding its Coretta Scott King Award to deserving African-Americans.


National Council on Negro Women Annual Brotherhood Award, 1957; Louise Waterman Wise Award, 1963; Myrtle Wreath Award, Cleveland Hadassah, 1965; Wateler Peace Prize, 1968; Dag Hammerskjoeld Award, 1969; Pacem in Terris award, International Overseas Service Foundation, 1969; Premi Antonio Feltrinelli, 1969, for exceptional display of high moral valor; Leadership for Freedom Award, Roosevelt University, 1971; Martin Luther King Memorial Medal, College of the City of New York, 1971; Eugene V. Debs Award, 1982; Freedom Award, National Civil Rights Museum, 1991; Frontrunner Award, Sara Lee Corporation, 1996; humanitarian award, Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission, 1999; numerous honorary degrees.


Selected writings

  • (Editor) King, Martin Luther, Jr., The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Newmarket Press, 1983.
  • My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., Holt, 1969.

Further Reading


  • King, Coretta Scott, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., Holt, 1969.
  • Vivian, Octavia, Coretta: The Story of Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fortress, 1970.
  • Ebony, January 1980; August 1982; January 1986; January 1987; January 1990; January 1991.
  • Jet, February 5, 1981; September 19, 1983; November 7, 1983; November 21, 1983; July 15, 1985; January 20, 1986; May 8, 1989; January 21, 1991.
  • New York Times, January 31, 2006.
  • University of Rhode Island Pacer, September 2000. Available from
  •, (January 31, 2006).
  • USA Today, (March 24, 2004).

— Susan M. Marren

Columbia Encyclopedia: King, Coretta Scott,
1927–2006, American civil-rights leader, b. Heiberger, Ala.; the wife (1953–68) of Martin Luther King, Jr. After her husband's assassination, she carried on his civil-rights work. She also campaigned to have his birthday commemorated as a national holiday, which was first observed in 1986, and establihsed the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta. In the late 1990s she and other family members supported the unsuccessful efforts of James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of her husband, to win a new trial, believing that Martin Luther King was the victim of a conspiracy that may have included members of the U.S. government. In 1999 she and her family brought and won a wrongful death suit against Loyd Jowers, who claimed to have arranged King's assassination for a Mafia figure. Many experts, however, were not convinced by the evidence presented during the trial. She wrote My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (1969).
Quotes By: Coretta Scott King


"I'm fulfilled in what I do... I never thought that a lot of money or fine clothes -- the finer things of life -- would make you happy. My concept of happiness is to be filled in a spiritual sense."

Wikipedia: Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King
Coretta King
Born April 27 1927(1927--)
Heiberger, Alabama, U.S.[1]
Died January 30 2006 (aged 78)
Playas de Rosarito, Mexico
Occupation First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement; Equal Rights Activist
Spouse The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Children ______________________ ______________________

Coretta Scott King (April 27, 1927January 30, 2006) was the wife of the assassinated civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., and a noted civil rights leader, author, singer, and founder and former president of the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.

Childhood and education

King was the second of three children born to Obediah Scott and Bernice McMurray Scott. She had an older sister named Edythe, born in 1925, and a younger brother named Obediah 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 Depression the Scott children picked cotton with their parents to help support the family.[1]

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 have but one dress to put on." The Scott children attended a one room elementary school five miles from their home and were later bussed to a high school in Marion, Alabama, nine miles 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 school.[1]

King graduated in the top of her high school class 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 gratitude.[2]

She 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 by the local school board. The board denied her request to perform two years of required practice teaching at Yellow Springs public schools, for her teaching certificate.[2] 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 Time 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."[3]

Family life

Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr., were married on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house; the ceremony was performed by King's father. After completing her degree in voice and violin at the New England Conservatory, she moved with her husband to Montgomery, Alabama in September 1954, after he was named pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.[citation needed]

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 fulfilment. 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 continued to work for civil rights after her husband's assassination in 1968, although she broadened her focus to include women's rights, GLBT rights, economic issues, world peace, and various other leftist causes. As early as December of 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.[4]

Coretta Scott King was also surveilled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1968 until 1972. Her husband's activities had been surveilled 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."[5] A spokesman for the King family said that they were aware of the surveillance, but had not realized how extensive it was.

Later life

Martin Luther King Day

Coretta Scott King, along with Rosalynn Carter, Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter, and other civil rights leaders during a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, January 14, 1979.
Coretta Scott King, along with Rosalynn Carter, Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter, and other civil rights leaders during a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, January 14, 1979.

After her husband was assassinated in 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. King was finally successful in this in 1986, when Martin Luther King Day was made a federal holiday.

Coretta Scott King attended the state funeral of Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1973, as a very close friend of the former president, himself a contributor to civil rights. She was also present when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing Martin Luther King Day.

Opposition to apartheid

During 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 policies.

In 1986, she traveled to South Africa and met with Winnie Mandela, while Mandela's husband Nelson Mandela was still a political prisoner on Robben Island. She declined invitations from Pik Botha and moderate Zulu chief Buthelezi.[6] Upon her return to the United States, she urged Reagan to approve economic sanctions against South Africa.

Peace, veganism and other political positions

A long-time advocate for world peace, in 1957, King was one of the founders of The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

King called her adoption of a vegan diet in 1995 a blessing. Her son, Dexter, had been vegan since 1988, saying that an appreciation for animal rights is the "logical extension" of his father's philosophy of non-violence.

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, lesbian and gay rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.

LGBT equality

King and President George W. Bush
King and President George W. Bush

On April 1, 1998 at The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, King called on the civil rights community to join in the struggle against homophobia and anti-gay bias. "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 group."

In November 2003 in a speech at the opening session of the 13th annual Creating Change Conference, organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 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 inclusion.

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 Dream" speech. It was the first time that an LGBT rights group had been invited to a major event of the African American community. King said her husband supported the quest for equality by gays and reminded her critics that the 1963 March on Washington was organized by Bayard Rustin, an openly gay civil rights activist.

On March 23, 2004, she told an audience at Richard Stockton University in Pomona, N.J, that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. King denounced a proposed amendment advanced by President George W. Bush to the United States Constitution 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 gay bashing 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.[7]

Final days

Coretta Scott King's old grave, Atlanta, Georgia
Coretta Scott King's old grave, Atlanta, Georgia
Coretta Scott King's gravesite by husband, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Coretta Scott King's gravesite by husband, Martin Luther King, Jr.

By the end of her 77th year, King began experiencing health problems. Hospitalized in April 2005, she 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 Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta on September 22, 2005, after regaining some of her speech and continued physiotherapy at home. Due to continuing health problems, King cancelled a number of speaking and traveling engagements throughout the remainder of 2005. Because of complications from the stroke, she was apparently unable to make her wishes known regarding the ongoing debate as to whether of the King Center would continue to operate independently or be sold to the National Park Service.[8] On January 14 2006, King made her last public appearance in Atlanta at a dinner honoring her husband's memory.


King died in the late evening of January 30, 2006[9] 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 death is believed to be respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer.[10]. King was 78 years old. The clinic at which she passed away 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.[11][12] Days after Mrs. King's death, the Baja California, Mexico state medical commissioner, Dr. Francisco Vera, shut down the clinic.[13]


Over 14,000 people gathered for King's six-hour funeral at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia on February 7, 2006 where daughter Bernice King is an elder. The megachurch, 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 1968.

The current and most living former U.S. Presidents and their wives attended, excepting the Ford family, which was absent due to illness, and Barbara Bush, who had a previous engagement. Numerous other political and prominent civil rights leaders 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. [1] 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.

Controversy surrounding funeral

President Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery provided funeral orations. With President George W. Bush seated a few feet away, Rev. Lowery, referencing King's vocal opposition to the Iraq war, noted the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. President Carter, referencing King's lifelong struggle for civil rights, noted that her family had been the target of secret government wiretapping. Their comments were met with thunderous applause and standing ovations. Some conservatives expressed dissatisfaction with these comments.

King's fight against homophobia resulted in a funeral protest by Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, who described King as a "fag enabler" because of her support for gay rights. A group called 'Feminist Outlawz' mounted a counter-protest against Phelps' group. [2][3].

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 University, and Bates College. She was honored by both of her alma maters in 2004, receiving a Horace Mann Award from Antioch College[2] and an Outstanding Alumni Award from the New England Conservatory of Music.[14] In 1970, the American Library Association began awarding a medal named for Coretta Scott King to outstanding African American wrtiers and illustrators of children's literature.[15]

Many individuals and organizations paid tribute to King following her death, including U.S. President George W. Bush,[16] the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,[17] the Human Rights Campaign,[18] the National Black Justice Coalition,[19] her alma mater Antioch College.[20]

King's body was returned to Atlanta and carried through the streets on a horse-drawn carriage to the Georgia State Capitol as the crowd threw roses at the casket and a lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace"; King became the first woman and black person to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol. (see [4]). King's body also lay at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (where her husband was pastor). By presidential proclamation, flags were flown half staff on February 7, 2006, the day of King's interrment.[21]

The beginning of Super Bowl XL was marked by a moment of silence in memory of King and Rosa Parks, who died the previous year.

A proposal before the Atlanta City Council (as of April 2006) would rename Atlanta's Simpson Street/Road after King. [5] The road bisects the Vine City neighborhood, a long time residence of Coretta Scott King and, earlier, the King family.

Congressional resolutions

Upon the news of her death, moments of reflection, remembrance, and mourning began around the world. In the United States Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist presented Senate Resolution 362 on behalf 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 Representatives 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 to it.


Mrs. King was not without her detractors, particular concerning the King family's handling of her husband's estate. The licensing of Martin Luther King's speeches has caused concern about the reasoning behind limiting their availability. Mrs. King was also involved in the decision to demand licensing fees before the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity could begin fundraising for its project to build the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Coretta Scott King. Women's History. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  2. ^ a b c King, Coretta Scott. "Address, Antioch Reunion 2004", The Antiochian, Fall 2004. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 
  3. ^ "Never Again Where He Was", Time Magazine, January 3 1964. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 
  4. ^ Pappas, Heather. Coretta Scott King. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  5. ^ "FBI spied on Coretta Scott King, files show", The Los Angeles Times, August 31 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  6. ^ Coretta Scott King. The Daily Telegraph (January 31 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  7. ^ Welcome. The King Center (no date). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  8. ^ "Can you find this story? Someone has only provided the web address, which is a deadlink, but it was a January 14th article in the LA Times.", The Los Angeles Times, January 14. 
  9. ^ "Coretta Scott King dead at 78", The Associated Press, January 31 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  10. ^ "King had Paralysis and Cancer", The Associated Press, January 31 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  11. ^ "Clinic, founder operate outside norm", The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, February 1 2006. 
  12. ^ Barrett, Stephen. "The Shady Activities of Kurt Donbach", Quackwatch, last revised September 10 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  13. ^ McKinley, James C.. "Mexico Closes Alternative Care Clinic Where Mrs. King Died", The New York Times, February 4 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  14. ^ Alumni Profile: Coretta Scott King '54, '71 hon. D.M.. New England Conservatory of Music (no date). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  15. ^ The Coretta Scott King Book Awards for Authors and Illustrators. American Library Association (no date). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  16. ^ Bush, George W. (January 31 2006). State of the Union. The White House. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  17. ^ Task Force mourns death of Coretta Scott King. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (January 31 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  18. ^ Coretta Scott King Leaves Behind Legacy of the Everlasting Pursuit of Justice. Human Rights Campaign (January 31 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  19. ^ Leader Passes Quietly into the Night: Coretta Scott King Dies at 78. National Black Justice Coalition (January 31 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  20. ^ "We have lost a great American and a great Antiochian….": Coretta Scott King’s death mourned by the Antioch Community. Antioch College (January 31 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  21. ^ Bush, George W. (February 6 2006). A Proclamation by the President: Death of Coretta Scott King. The White House. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

NAME King, Coretta Scott
ALTERNATIVE NAMES King, Coretta; Scott, Coretta
SHORT DESCRIPTION civil rights figure
DATE OF BIRTH April 27, 1927
PLACE OF BIRTH near Marion, Alabama, United States of America
PLACE OF DEATH Rosarito Beach, Mexico


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