Coretta Scott King’s legacy lives on

Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died Jan. 31, at the age of 78.

As the wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was thrust into the limelight as the wife of a prominent civil rights leader. She met her future husband while they were college students in Boston. According to the SIU Carbondale News, “She was doing post-graduate concert voice studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was working on a doctorate in theology at Boston University.”

They were married in June 1953. A year later, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. “During these days,” said the News, “Mrs. King performed the many functions expected of a pastor’s wife and devoted herself to rearing the couple’s four children.” But she was also active in the civil rights movement, speaking to church, civic, college, fraternal and peace groups. She used her musical talent to create and perform Freedom Concerts to fund-raise for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, over which her husband presided.

After his 1968 assassination, she concentrated on developing and completing the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which she called a living memorial to her husband’s life and dream. The Center, founded June 26, 1968, is located in the Freedom Hall complex surrounding her husband’s tomb. The King Center is part of a 23-acre national historical park including King’s birthplace and is the first U.S. institution built in memory of an African-American leader.

Coretta Scott King served as founding president, chairman and chief executive officer of the center. She helped provide programs to train tens of thousands of people in her husband’s philosophy and methods, created the largest archive of Civil Rights Movement materials, and led the campaign to make her husband’s birthday a national holiday. In November 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing the third Monday of every January as the national holiday. She also wrote a book, My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr. (1993) and wrote the foreword to his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Her influence was felt abroad. Coretta Scott King led goodwill missions to Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and in many ways worked to foster peace and justice throughout the world. Her efforts were curtailed by poor health in later years. On Aug. 16, 2005, she suffered a stroke. On Jan. 16, a couple weeks before her death, she watched the King Day ceremonies on television, observing the 20th anniversary of the federal holiday.

From the eb. 1-7, 2006, issue

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