Coretta Scott King: Activist

Coretta Scott King: Activist

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)

Much of the current #MLK day recognition is due to the work of his wife, Coretta. She was an activist in her own right, and made numerous contributions to the struggle for social justice and human rights throughout her life, around the world. She saw herself as King’s coworker, in addition to the role of wife.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said that without her ‘‘love, sacrifices, and loyalty [without which] neither life nor work would bring fulfillment’’ (King, Stride 11), a dream sort of relationship.

Coretta Scott was born on 27 April 1927, near Marion, Alabama. Her parents, Obadiah ‘‘Obie’’ Scott and Bernice McMurray Scott, were farm owners committed to ensuring that their children received the best education possible. Scott attended the private Lincoln High School in Marion, where she developed her interest in music. By the age of 15, she had become the choir director and pianist of her church’s junior choir.

After graduating from Lincoln, Scott won a partial scholarship to Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the same university her sister Edythe had attended as the first African American student. While at Antioch, Scott studied voice and music education. She also became a member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as the Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees. In an article, ‘‘Why I Came to College,’’ published in Opportunity in 1948, Scott wrote that college graduates, ‘‘had greater freedom of movement: they went on trips; they visited cities; they knew more about the world’’ (Scott, 42). She later credited Antioch with preparing her for her role in the civil rights movement, stating that ‘‘the college’s emphasis on service to mankind reinforced the Christian spirit of giving and sharing’’ and provided ‘‘a new self-assurance that encouraged me in competition with all people’’ (Scott King, 43).

In 1951, Scott enrolled in Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music with a grant from the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. In early 1952, her friend Mary Powell introduced her to King, then a doctoral candidate at Boston University’s School of Theology. While initially wary of dating a Baptist minister, she was impressed by his sophistication and intellect and recalled King telling her: ‘‘You have everything I have ever wanted in a wife’ (Scott King, 53). The two were married at the Scott family home near Marion on 18 June 1953. After the wedding, they returned to Boston to complete their degrees. Coretta Scott King earned her bachelor of music degree in June 1954.

Although Scott King was focused on raising the couple’s four children: Yolanda Denise King (1955), Martin Luther King, III (1957), Dexter Scott King (1961), and Bernice Albertine King (1963), she continued to play a critical role in many of the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, performing in freedom concerts that included poetry recitation, singing, and lectures related to the history of the civil rights movement. The proceeds from these concerts were donated to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Scott King also accompanied her husband around the world, traveling to Ghana in 1957 and India in 1959. She was particularly affected by the women she met in India. ‘‘As we traveled through the land, we were greatly impressed by the part women played in the political life of India, far more than in our own country’’ (Scott King, 162). In 1962, Coretta Scott King’s interest in disarmament efforts took her to Geneva, Switzerland, where she served as a Women’s Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference. Two years later, she accompanied her husband to Oslo for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. She later recalled thinking: ‘‘What a blessing, to be a co-worker with a man whose life would have so profound an impact on the world’’ (Scott King, 12).

After King’s assassination on 4 April 1968, Coretta Scott King devoted much of her life to spreading her husband’s philosophy of nonviolence. Just days after his death, she led a march on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Later that month, she stood in for her husband at an anti–Vietnam War rally in New York. In May 1968, she helped to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, and thereafter participated in numerous anti-poverty efforts. Coretta Scott King began mobilizing support for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. As founding president of the King Center, she guided its construction next to Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King had served as co-pastor with his father, Martin Luther King, Sr.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Scott King continued to speak publicly and write nationally syndicated columns, and began efforts to establish a national holiday in honor of her husband. In 1983, she led an effort that brought more than a half-million demonstrators to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King had delivered his famous ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech. As chairperson of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, she successfully formalized plans for the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which began in January 1986.

During the 1980’s, Coretta Scott King reaffirmed her long-standing opposition to South African apartheid, participating in a series of sit-in protests in Washington that prompted nationwide demonstrations against South African racial policies. In 1986, she traveled to South Africa and met with Winnie Mandela. She also remained active in various women’s organizations, including the National Organization for Women, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and United Church Women.

Throughout her life, Coretta Scott King carried the message of nonviolence and social justice to almost every corner of the globe. On 30 January 2006, Coretta Scott King died in her sleep at a holistic health center in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. She was 78 years old. 


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

More Posts

Spaciousness: Yin Principles in Self and Culture

For a long time in U.S. culture, the yang principle—dominance over nature, competition between ourselves, unbridled growth at all costs—has been winning. It’s “go-go-go,” all the time. Overly yang systems tax our nervous systems, adrenal glands, and mental health. They also damage our families. This includes the biggest family of all: the Earth, and our collective ecology. As in all things, when a situation gets

Healing Collective Trauma (Part 1)

Welcome to the first part of a special series on Healing Collective trauma, join the Rose Woman, Christine in this solo episode, as she shares her training, experiences, and insights on Collective Trauma. We dive and reflect into understanding the trauma healing collective process and learning more about ourselves, our consciousness, and how it manifests with the people around us. Tune in as we contemplate

The Family of the Future is Here: Talking Reproductive Tech & How It’s Changing Us

A mind-blowing conversation on reproductive tech, how it’s already changed us and what’s on the horizon, with Rachel Lehmann-Haupt. A rise in the age of motherhood, an explosion in single parent families and sci-fi level realities in repro tech are changing our options. Technologies like egg freezing, in vitro fertilization, the use of donor eggs, 3-parent embryos, external wombs…and even the option to become a

Open and Consensual: The New Monogamy

Are open relationships the new normal? Would you or have you ever considered a threesome? Today we are talking about the rapidly changing world of sexual norms- where the unacknowledged or unfulfilled fantasies of more diverse sexuality come to life. AND yes- there’s an app for that! That app is Feel’d – a dating app for couples and singles- where consent and respect rule the

Disconnection from Nature: A Collective Developmental Trauma

Remember When…. Do you remember a time when we were children, playing outside? We had the feeling that we were one with everything: the sand, the wind, the trees. There was no doubt that we belonged. We played in the snow unselfconsciously until our noses were snotty and our cheeks were magenta pink. We swam until we were pruned, made clover necklaces, picked cherries, and

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop