Coretta Scott King
OccupationCivil rights
SpouseMartin Luther King, Jr.

Coretta Scott King (April 27, 1927 – January 30, 2006) was the wife of the civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr, author, activist, in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.

Childhood and Education

Coretta Scott King was the second of three children born to Obediah "Obie" Scott (1899-1998) and Bernice McMurray Scott (1904-1996) in Perry County, Alabama. She had an older sister named Edythe, born in 1925, and a younger brother named Obediah Leonard, born in 1930. The Scotts owned a farm, which had been in the family since the American Civil War, but were not particularly wealthy. During the Great Depression the Scott children picked cotton with their parents to help support the family.[1] Obie was the first black in their neighborhood to own a truck. He had a barber shop in their home. He also owned a lumber mill, which was burned down by white neighbors.

Though uneducated themselves, King's parents intended for all of their children to be educated. King quoted her mother as having said, "My children are going to college, even if it means I only have but one dress to put on."[2] The Scott children attended a one room elementary school five miles (8 km) from their home and were later bussed to a high school in Marion, Alabama, nine miles (14 km) from their home. The bus was driven by Bernice Scott, who bussed all the local black teenagers to the Marion high school, as it was the closest black high school.[1]

King graduated valedictorian of Lincoln High School in 1945 and enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Edythe Scott already attended Antioch as part of the Antioch Program for Interracial Education, which recruited non-white students and gave them full scholarships in an attempt to diversify the historically white campus. King said of her first college:

Antioch had envisioned itself as a laboratory in democracy, but had no black students. (Edythe) became the first African American to attend Antioch on a completely integrated basis, and was joined by two other black female students in the fall of 1943. Pioneering is never easy, and all of us who followed my sister at Antioch owe her a great debt of gratitude.[2]

She studied music with Walter Anderson, the first non-white chair of an academic department in a historically white college. King also became politically active, due largely to her experience of racial discrimination by the local school board. The board denied her request to perform her second year of required practice teaching at Yellow Springs public schools, for her teaching certificate King appealed to the Antioch College administration, which was unwilling or unable to change the situation in the local school system and instead employed her at the college's associated laboratory school for a second year.[1][2]

King transferred out of Antioch when she won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she met Martin Luther King, Jr.[3] In her early life King was as well known as a singer as she was as a civil rights activist, and often incorporated music into her civil rights work. In 1964, the Time profile of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was chosen as Time's "Man of the Year", referred to her as "a talented young soprano."[4]

Family life

File:Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS 5.jpg

Dr. and Mrs. King in 1964

Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr., were married on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her mothers' house; the ceremony was performed by King's father. After completing her degree in voice and violin at the New England Conservatory, she moved with her husband to Montgomery, Alabama in September 1954.

The Kings had four children:

  • Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955- May 15, 2007), Montgomery, Alabama)
  • Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957, Montgomery, Alabama)
  • Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961, Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963, Atlanta, Georgia)

All four children later followed in their parents' footsteps as civil rights activists.

Civil Rights Movement

File:Jake pickle 1976.jpg

Congressman J. J. Pickle of Texas hands King a promotional "squeaky pickle" at a campaign rally in Austin, Texas, 1976.

Coretta Scott King played an extremely important role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin wrote of her that, "I am indebted to my wife Coretta, without whose love, sacrifices, and loyalty neither life nor work would bring fulfilment. She has given me words of consolation when I needed them and a well-ordered home where Christian love is a reality." However, Martin and Coretta did conflict over her public role in the movement. Martin wanted Coretta to focus on raising their four children, while Coretta wanted to take a more public leadership role.

Not long after her husband's death, Coretta approached the African-American entertainer and activist Josephine Baker to take her husband's place as leader of The Civil Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over Baker declined, stating that her twelve adopted children (known as the "rainbow tribe") were " ... too young to lose their mother."[5]

Coretta Scott King decided to take the helm of the movement herself after her husband's assassination in 1968, although she broadened her focus to include women's rights, GLBT rights, economic issues, world peace, and various other leftist causes. As early as December 1968, she called for women to "unite and form a solid block of women power to fight the three great evils of racism, poverty and war," during a Solidarity Day speech.[6]

Coretta Scott King was also under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1968 until 1972. Her husband's activities had been monitored during his lifetime. Documents obtained by a Houston, Texas television station show that the FBI worried that King would "tie the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement."[7] A spokesman for the King family said that they were aware of the surveillance, but had not realized how extensive it was.

Later life

Martin Luther King Day

File:Coretta scott king ebenezer.jpg

Coretta Scott King, along with Rosalynn Carter, Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter, and other civil rights leaders during a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, January 14, 1979.

After her husband was assassinated on April 4, 1968, she began attending a commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to mark her husband's birth every January 15 and fought for years to make it a national holiday. Murray M. Silver, Esq., Atlanta Attorney, made the Appeal at the Services on 1/14/1979. Coretta Scott King later confirmed that it was the ", most productive appeal ever..." King was finally successful in this in 1986, when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was made a federal holiday.

Coretta Scott King attended the state funeral of Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1973, as a very close friend of the former president, himself a contributor to civil rights. She was also present when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing Martin Luther King Day.

Opposition to apartheid

During the 1980s, King reaffirmed her long-standing opposition to apartheid, participating in a series of sit-in protests in Washington, D.C. that prompted nationwide demonstrations against South African racial policies.

In 1986, she traveled to South Africa and met with Winnie Mandela, while Mandela's husband Nelson Mandela was still a political prisoner on Robben Island. She declined invitations from Pik Botha and moderate Zulu chief Buthelezi.[8] Upon her return to the United States, she urged Reagan to approve economic sanctions against South Africa.

Peace, veganism and other political positions

A long-time advocate for world peace, in 1957, King was one of the founders of The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

King called her adoption of a vegan diet in 1995 a blessing. Her son, Dexter, had been vegan since 1988, saying that an appreciation for animal rights is the "logical extension" of his father's philosophy of non-violence.

King was vocal in her opposition to capital punishment and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, thus drawing criticism from conservative groups. She was also an advocate of feminism, LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.

LGBT equality


King with President George W. Bush

On April 1, 1998 at The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, King called on the civil rights community to join in the struggle against homophobia and anti-gay bias. "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood", King stated. "This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group."

In November 2003 in a speech at the opening session of the 13th annual Creating Change Conference, organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, King made her now famous appeal linking the Civil Rights Movement to the LGBT agenda: "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. ... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

King's support of LGBT rights was strongly criticized by some black pastors. She called her critics "misinformed" and said that Martin Luther King's message to the world was one of equality and inclusion.

In 2003, she invited the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to take part in observances of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. It was the first time that an LGBT rights group had been invited to a major event of the African American community.

On March 23, 2004, she told an audience at Richard Stockton University in Pomona, N.J, that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. King denounced a proposed amendment advanced by President George W. Bush to the United States Constitution that would ban equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. In her speech King also criticized a group of black pastors in her home state of Georgia for backing a bill to amend that state's constitution to block gay and lesbian couples from marrying. King is quoted as saying "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriage."

The King Center

Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, The King Center is the official memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of a nonviolent movement for justice, equality and peace. She handed the reins as CEO and president of the King Center down to her son, Dexter Scott King, who still runs the center today.[9]

Final days


Coretta Scott King's temporary gravesite, Atlanta, Georgia

By the end of her 77th year, King began experiencing health problems. Hospitalized in April 2005, she was diagnosed with a heart condition and was discharged on her 78th and final birthday. Later, King suffered several small strokes. On August 16 2005, she was hospitalized after suffering a stroke and a mild heart attack. Initially, she was unable to speak or move her right side. She was released from Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta on September 22, 2005, after regaining some of her speech and continued physiotherapy at home. Due to continuing health problems, King cancelled a number of speaking and traveling engagements throughout the remainder of 2005. On January 14 2006, King made her last public appearance in Atlanta at a dinner honoring her husband's memory.


King died in the late evening of January 30, 2006[10] at a rehabilitation center in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where she was undergoing holistic therapy for her stroke and advanced stage ovarian cancer. The main cause of King's death, however, is believed to be respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer.[11] King was 78 years old. The clinic at which she passed away was called the Hospital Santa Monica, but was licensed as Clinica Santo Tomas. Newspaper reports indicated that it was not legally licensed to "perform surgery, take X-rays, perform laboratory work or run an internal pharmacy, all of which it was doing." It was also founded, owned, and operated by San Diego resident, and highly controversial alternative medicine figure, Kurt Donsbach.[12][13] Days after Mrs. King's death, the Baja California, Mexico state medical commissioner, Dr. Francisco Vera, shut down the clinic.[14]


Over 14,000 people gathered for King's eight-hour funeral at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia on February 7, 2006 where daughter Bernice King, who is an elder at the church, eulogized her mother. The megachurch, whose sanctuary seats 10,000, was better able to handle the expected massive crowds than Ebenezer Baptist Church, of which King was a member since the early 1960s and which was the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral in 1968.

The current and most living former U.S. Presidents and their wives attended, excepting the Ford family, which was absent due to illness, and Barbara Bush, who had a previous engagement. Numerous other political and prominent civil rights leaders attended the televised service.

King was interred in a temporary mausoleum on the grounds of the King Center until a permanent place next to her husband's remains could be built. [1] She had expressed to family members and others that she wanted her remains to lie next to her husband's at the King Center. On November 20, 2006 the new mausoleum containing both the bodies of Dr. and Mrs King was unveiled in front of friends and family. It is the third resting place of Martin Luther King. Scott King died on son Dexter's birthday.

Controversy surrounding funeral

President Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery provided funeral orations. With President George W. Bush seated a few feet away, Rev. Lowery, referencing King's vocal opposition to the Iraq war, noted the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. President Carter, referencing King's lifelong struggle for civil rights, noted that her family had been the target of secret government wiretapping. Their comments were met with thunderous applause and standing ovations.

Recognition and tributes

King was the recipient of various honors and tributes both before and after her death. She received honorary degrees from many institutions, including Princeton University, Duke University, and Bates College. She was honored by both of her alma maters in 2004, receiving a Horace Mann Award from Antioch College[2] and an Outstanding Alumni Award from the New England Conservatory of Music.[15] In 1970, the American Library Association began awarding a medal named for Coretta Scott King to outstanding African American wrtiers and illustrators of children's literature.[16]

Many individuals and organizations paid tribute to King following her death, including U.S. President George W. Bush,[17] the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,[18] the Human Rights Campaign,[19] the National Black Justice Coalition,[20] her alma mater Antioch College.[21]

King's body was returned to Atlanta and carried through the streets on a horse-drawn carriage to the Georgia State Capitol as the crowd threw roses at the casket and a lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace"; King became the first woman and black person to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol. (see [2]). King's body also lay at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (where her husband was pastor). By presidential proclamation, flags were flown half staff on February 7, 2006, the day of King's interrment.[22]

The beginning of Super Bowl XL was marked by a moment of silence in memory of King and Rosa Parks, who died the previous year.

A proposal before the Atlanta City Council (as of April 2006) would rename Atlanta's Simpson Street/Road after King. [3] The road bisects the Vine City neighborhood, a long time residence of Coretta Scott King and, earlier, the King family.

In the year 2004, Coretta Scott King was awarded the prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize by Government of India.

Congressional resolutions

Upon the news of her death, moments of reflection, remembrance, and mourning began around the world. In the United States Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist presented Senate Resolution 362 on behalf of all U.S. Senators, with the afternoon hours filled with respectful tributes throughout the U.S. Capitol.

On January 31, 2006 following a moment of silence in memoriam to the death of King, the United States House of Representatives presented House Resolution 655 in honor of King's legacy. In an unusual action, the resolution included a grace period of five days in which further comments could be added to it.


Mrs. King was not without her detractors, particular concerning the King family's handling of her husband's estate. The licensing of Martin Luther King's speeches has caused concern about the reasoning behind limiting their availability.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Gale
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 King, Coretta Scott. "Address, Antioch Reunion 2004", The Antiochian, Fall 2004. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 
  3. "Coretta Scott King Dies at 78", ABC News, January 31, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 
  4. "Never Again Where He Was", Time Magazine, January 3, 1964. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 
  5. Josephine Baker and Joe Bouillon, Josephine. Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1977
  6. Pappas, Heather. Coretta Scott King. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  7. "FBI spied on Coretta Scott King, files show", The Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  8. Coretta Scott King. The Daily Telegraph (January 31, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  9. Welcome. The King Center (no date). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  10. "Coretta Scott King dead at 78", The Associated Press, January 31, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  11. "King had Paralysis and Cancer", The Associated Press, January 31, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  12. "Clinic, founder operate outside norm", The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, February 1, 2006. 
  13. Barrett, Stephen. "The Shady Activities of Kurt Donbach", Quackwatch, last revised September 10, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  14. McKinley, James C.. "Mexico Closes Alternative Care Clinic Where Mrs. King Died", The New York Times, February 4, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  15. Alumni Profile: Coretta Scott King '54, '71 hon. D.M.. New England Conservatory of Music (no date). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  16. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards for Authors and Illustrators. American Library Association (no date). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  17. Bush, George W. (January 31, 2006). State of the Union. The White House. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  18. Task Force mourns death of Coretta Scott King. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (January 31, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  19. Coretta Scott King Leaves Behind Legacy of the Everlasting Pursuit of Justice. Human Rights Campaign (January 31, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  20. Leader Passes Quietly into the Night: Coretta Scott King Dies at 78. National Black Justice Coalition (January 31, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  21. "We have lost a great American and a great Antiochian....": Coretta Scott King’s death mourned by the Antioch Community. Antioch College (January 31, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  22. Bush, George W. (February 6, 2006). A Proclamation by the President: Death of Coretta Scott King. The White House. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.

External links