The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King

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VSOretta Scott King Wasn’t just the wife of an American hero, she was an icon in her own right and her accomplishments deserve to be celebrated alongside those of her husband.

The author, activist, civil rights leader and singer was born in her parents’ home in Heiberger, Alabama, April 27, 1927. Her grandmother was a former slave who acted as a midwife when she was born. Coretta’s mother and father come from humble origins, but her father instilled in her a passion for learning and hard work. At the age of 10, she started working on the family farm picking cotton. Coretta was strong for her age and loved to wrestle with boys.

Before her teenage years, Coretta accidentally cut her cousin with an ax, after roughing up the boys. The accident caused a family drama and after a severe reprimand from her mother, Coretta began to behave in a more feminine manner.

Education was great in the Scott house. Everything Scott needed to go to school. The schools in the south were still separate and the nearest black school was about 15 km away. Luckily for Coretta, her mother was the bus driver and was responsible for driving all the local black teens to school. In high school, Coretta’s brain and voice began to glow. She became the principal soprano of the school choir, played the trumpet and piano, and graduated as a major in her class.

Coretta then attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she studied music and also found a purpose in politics. She joined the school chapter of the NAACP after battling with the school board over wanting to complete her teaching requirements by teaching in the local public school. But as passionate as she is about politics, music continues to open doors for her. Coretta would graduate in vocal and music education. The piano and the violin would be his instruments of choice.

How Coretta Scott Met Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1952, she obtained a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. While on campus, she was approached by a young man named Martin Luther King, but was not impressed. He had gotten his phone number from a friend of his, but Coretta was concentrating on music and not showing much interest in King. Eventually, Coretta’s friend convinced her to meet King, and the two dated. King was confident and a little arrogant, telling Coretta that she had all the qualities he looked for in a woman. But Coretta, who was surprised he was so small, couldn’t see how King could know it was her after they had just met. But they continued to see each other and two weeks after they met Martin had told his mother that he had met his wife. The two were married on June 18, 1953. Their marriage would change Coretta’s life forever, as she would have to put her dreams of a classical singer on the back burner.

Coretta Scott King and the “concerts of freedom”

Although the civil rights movement was created to fight to demand social change for blacks in America, it still had the stench of men and most of the black women in the movement had to stay home and care for the children. Martin Luther King’s expectations were no different and Coretta gave up her ambitions for the cause.

In 1954 Martin Luther King Jr. became a full-time pastor and Coretta taught Sunday school and became a member of the church choir where she was able to show off her singing skills, but she always considered a career in the music industry. Instead of seeing her dreams vanish altogether, she found a way to combine the life she had created with her husband with her passion for music. In 1964, Coretta will organize the “concerts of freedom”, to raise money for the cause. Each performance consisted of song, poetry and lectures all demonstrating the history of the civil rights movement.

Book, Activism and Life of Coretta Scott King MLK

H. Belafonte and Coretta King before Menphis' march to MLK's funeral

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Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. After his death, Coretta played a leading role in the civil rights movement. She has also become active in the women’s movement, opposition to apartheid, as well as LGBTQ rights.

She also fought and worked tirelessly to preserve the legacy of her husband Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, she established The King Center, the official memorial dedicated to advancing the legacy and ideals of MLK. In 1969, she wrote her memoirs entitled: “My life, my love, my heritage.That same year, she created the Coretta Scott King Award for Outstanding Black Author / Illustrator. She also campaigned for years to make MLK Day a federal holiday, which finally came to fruition in 1986.

Coretta Scott King’s Legacy

Coretta Scott King, Head and Shoulders Portrait, Democratic National Convention, New York City, New York, USA, Warren K. Leffler, July 13, 1976

Source: Universal History Archives / Getty

Although Coretta passed away on January 30, 2006, her legacy will live on forever. Coretta Scott King Book Award is awarded to a black author or illustrator of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation for African American culture and universal human values. She also received numerous awards after her death, including the Golden Plate Award, the Gandhi Peace Prize, and also had Super Bowl XL dedicated to her and Rosa Parks. She has also been inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Here are 5 quotes from Coretta Scott King to live

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter sing along with Martin Luther King Sr. Coretta Scott King Andrew Young and another civil rights leader during a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta circa January 14, 1979

Source: HUM Images / Getty

“Hatred is too heavy a burden to carry. It hurts the one who hates more than it hurts the one who is hated. – Coretta Scott King

“Revenge and retaliation always perpetuates the cycle of anger, fear and violence. ” Coretta Scott King

“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe you must become its soul.” Coretta Scott King

“To abandon affirmative action is to say that there is nothing more to be done against discrimination.” Coretta Scott King

“Nonviolence would work today, it would work in 2,000 years, it would work in 5,000 years.” – Coretta Scott King


Read MLK’s love letter to Coretta Scott King

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