Coretta Scott King, 1927-2006

  • Coretta-Scott-King-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Literature & Poetry, Music, and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: Atlanta Women, Author, and Singer

  • HerStory

    A civil and equal rights leader, women’s rights activist, musician, and the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Born in Marion, Alabama. From an early age, she developed musical skills, singing in the church and school’s chorus as well as playing the violin, trumpet, and piano. She attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she studied music and education. In college, she became active in the Civil Rights Movement, joining several political groups. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she was awarded a fellowship at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In Boston, she met her future husband, Martin Luther King Jr, who studied for Ph.D. at Boston University. She decided to continue her life with him, over her music career, and they got married in a ceremony led by his father in her family house.
    The following year, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he served as pastor. Although she focused on raising their four children and taking the tasks of the pastor’s wife, she remained politically active and played a critical role in the civil rights movement on her own. She organized and performed in freedom concerts, participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, accompanied her husband in his journeys around the world, including Ghana and India, and worked tirelessly for the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She criticized the movement’s exclusion of women and spoke out on all matters regarding civil rights, including religious freedom, health care, racial and economic justice, the needs of the poor and homeless, and same-sex marriage. She served as a delegate in the Women’s Strike for Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and worked as the mediator for various international peace and justice organizations.
    After her husband’s assassination on April 4th, 1968, she channeled her efforts spreading his ideology of nonviolence and equal rights to all. She founded and served as the first president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, demonstrated against apartheid in South Africa and expressed her views by speaking publicly and publishing in nationally syndicated columns. She led the campaign to establish a US national holiday on January 15th, Dr. King’s birthday.
    Throughout the years, she served as head of many US delegations, such as the Coalition of Conscience, the delegation of Women for a Meaningful Summit, and the Soviet-American Women’s Summit. She founded dozens of civil rights organizations, including the Black Leadership Roundtable, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Forum.
    King died at age 78 due to ovarian cancer complications. More than 14,000 people attended her service; among them were four out of five living US Presidents.

    “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul”

    “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was the first African American to lie in the Georgia State Capitol.
    • Her older sister was the first African American to attend Antioch College in Ohio, and she followed her once she graduated from the segregated high school she studied.
    • On their first date, after two phone conversations, he told her she is the wife he was looking for.
    • She was the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard University.
    • She was the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
    • In 1985, she and three of her children were arrested for protesting against apartheid.
    • She was portrayed by Angela Bassett in the television movie “Betty & Coretta.”
    • She was under FBI surveillance after she expressed her views against the Vietnam War.
    • The Coretta Scott King forest in the Galilee region in Israel is named in her honor.
    • The Coretta Scott King Award for outstanding African-American writers and illustrators of children’s literature is named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Her memoir “My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.
    * Her autobiography
    * Books she wrote
    * A movie about her


    * More than 60 honorary doctorates
    * The Universal Love Award (1969)
    * The Key of Life award from the NAACP
    * The Gandhi Peace Prize (2004)
    * Inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame (2009)

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Atlanta Women, Author, Singer

    Coretta Scott King speaks at Harvard’s Class Day in 1968

    Her husband’s death still raw, King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, agreed to take his place and speak on Class Day in 1968. By then, the nation was mourning yet another loss. Only six days before she spoke, Civil Rights advocate and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was shot to death in Los Angeles.

    Coretta Scott King's speech at Harvard (1968)
    from the collection of the Harvard Film Archive, Item #5977
    Digitized from a 16mm Ektachrome camera original made by WGBH

  • Coretta Scott King in Atlanta, GA in 1994. Photo credit - LOC