How ironic that as we celebrate the start of Black History Month, we also mourn the loss of an icon for people of all races.
Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mrs. King died Tuesday at a health center in Mexico. She was 78.
Having never fully recovered from a stroke and heart attack last year, one of her last public appearances was Jan. 14, during the King Holiday celebrations at the Salute to Greatness dinner in Atlanta, Ga. Although she did not speak, she looked elegant and beautiful as the audience gave her a standing ovation.
Rainbow Push held a memorial observance on Tuesday in honor of Mrs. King. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was mentored by Dr. King said, “Of all the things about Mrs. King, she was a freedom fighter. We know her as marching to end Jim Crow laws. For Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, Memphis, the right to vote. That legacy is secure…there is unfinished business but we know she’s basically in that light. We must honor that tradition.”
Statements from countless friends and admirers poured out Tuesday following the announcement of her death. U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia remarked, “This is a very sad hour. She was the glue long before she met and married Martin Luther King Jr. She was an activist.”
Longtime family friend Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who along with Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and Bayard Rustin formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, referred to Mrs. King as the “matriarch of the movement. A patriot of all that America stands for.”
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois expressed his sadness in Mrs. King’s passing in a statement released Tuesday.
“A motivating force, Mrs. King shared in the pain and promise of her husband’s vision for racial harmony and social change…After Dr. King’s tragic death, Mrs. King reminded us all that even during our darkest hour, brighter days are within reach.”
Coretta Scott was born in Marion, Ala. on April 27, 1927. Mrs. King graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and went on to attend Antioch College in Ohio, where she received a B.A. in music and education.
Mrs. King studied concert singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. According to her biography, she received a degree in voice and violin. While in Boston she met a young southern preacher named Martin Luther King. They married on June 18, 1953.
In the “Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.” published in 1998 from Dr. King’s various writings, interviews, letters and personal writings, a chapter is dedicated to his wife, and how the two met.
King recalls: “It was in Boston that I met and fell in love with the attractive singer Coretta Scott, whose gentle manner and air of repose did not disguise her lively spirit. I had met quite a few girls in Boston, but none that I was particularly fond of.
“I was about to get cynical. So I asked Mary Powell, a friend from Atlanta who was also a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, ‘Do you know any nice, attractive young ladies?’
Mary Powell introduced us and I was fortunate enough to get Coretta’s telephone number. We met over the telephone: ‘this is M. L. King, Jr. A mutual friend of ours told me about you and gave me your telephone number. She said some very wonderful things about you, and I’d like very much to meet you and talk to you…’
“She agreed to see me. ‘I’ll come over and pick you up. I have a green Chevy that usually takes ten minutes to make the trip from B.U., but tomorrow I’ll do it in seven.’
She talked about things other than music. I never will forget, the first discussion we had was about the question of racial and economic injustice and the question of peace. She had been actively engaged in movements dealing with these problems.
After an hour, my mind was made up. I said, ‘so you can do something else besides sing? You’ve got a good mind also. You have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday…’
“I told my mother, ‘Coretta is going to be my wife.’ On June 18, 1953, we were married. Although we had returned to Marion to be married by my father on the Scotts’ spacious lawn, it was in Boston that we began our married life together.”
Only days after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, Mrs. King went on to finish his “Poor Peoples March,” a campaign that was discussed a year early by the SCLC, and which begun shortly after his death.
Mrs. King wrote “My Life With Martin Luther King” in 1969. On Aug. 16, 2005, Mrs. King suffered a stroke and mild heart attack, initially unable to speak and partially paralyzed on her right side.
She died in her sleep early Tuesday at a rehabilitation center in Rosarito Beach, Mexico where she was undergoing therapy related to her stroke. Mrs. King’s body was flown back to Atlanta Wednesday where she will be buried next to her husband at the King Center.
Funeral arrangements are pending.