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CORETTA SCOTT KING

Coretta Scott King Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King is the wife of the famed civil rights activist Rev Martin Luther King, Jr.. She fits well with the old addage--behind every great man there is a woman. In Coretta's case, add strong, faithful and supporting to that addage, not forgetting very pretty off course.

She was born in Marion, Alabama on April 27th 1927 to Obadiah and Bernice McMurry Scott. She is the second-born in a family of three children, the others being elder sister Edythe and younger brother Obadiah, Jr. Her mother Bernice had some native Indian blood in her which would explain Coretta's pretty Indian features. The Scotts were not exactly poor compared to other black and some white families around them. In fact Obadiah Scott owned his own truck which he used to haul lumber, much to the chagrin of his poor white neighbours.

Coretta attended a black elementary school which she later appropriately characterized as "separate and unequal". She was of course making a mockery of the infamous 1896 Plessey V. Fergusson case ruling where the U.S. Supreme Court held that whites and blacks could have "separate but equal" institutions. While most blacks could live with the "separate" part of the ruling, the "equal" part left them jittery because they knew there was no comparison whatsoever between what they had for schools for example and what whites had. In Coretta's case, she explained how some "100 African-American children shared a one-bedroom school house. They had to buy their own books use outdoor plumbing." Compare that with her description of a nearby white school, "....Textbooks were free, each grade had a separate room, and there was even a library full of books."

In 1937 Coretta enrolled at Lincoln High School, a black semi-private school established by the American Missionary Association after the American Civil War(1861-1865). Coretta always loved music but it was at Lincoln that she began considering seriously a career in music. She graduated from Lincoln in 1945 and set her eyes on Antioch College in Ohio where her elder sister had earlier enrolled. Antioch had begun offering scholarships to African-Americans and Coretta's elder sister was among the early beneficiaries. She is the one who recommended Coretta to make the move to Antioch. Antioch was Coretta's first intergrated educational experience (whites and blacks attending the same institution). She majored in Elementary Education, the first black to ever do so at Antioch. She also carried on with her passion for music at Antioch, and even performed alongside music greats like Paul Robeson while there. It was also at Antioch that she joined the and the Civil Liberties Committee.

She struggled academically at Antioch because of her inferior elementary and high school curriculums. It was for this reason that she never graduated from Antioch, instead dropping out in 1951. Nevertheless she was pleased with her experiences there saying they helped to "broaden and enrich" her whole life. In 1951 she enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts to pursue a Degree in Music Education. It was in Boston that she ran Martin Luther King, Jr., then working on his Ph.D in Theology at Boston University. He was originally from Atlanta, Georgia. Coretta and Martin were introduced to each other through a mutual friend called Mary Powell. Coretta was initially not much taken with Martin Luther King, Jr. especially after she learnt that he was a church minister. Then she wasnt particularly fond of church ministers, who she stereotyped as "narrow minded overly pious people." However this should not be taken to mean that Coretta was not a religious person. Like many other people, she was just wary of religious fundamentalists, a staple of her rural Alabama roots. However the more she got to know King, Jr., all her initial reservations about him melted away by his special personality. After about two years of dating, the two lovebirds married on June 18th 1953.

Coretta had not planned on getting married until her music career blossomed, but love changed all that. She instead decided to focus on music education so she could teach music wherever her husband decided to minister. In 1954 she graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and moved with her husband to Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr. had also completed his residency requirements at Boston. He had been invited to deliver trial sermons at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama to see if the congregations would like him. They sure did and he was asked to stay on as Pastor. Montgomery was a far cry from Boston where the two had grown accustomed to. While racism was still existent in Boston and other northern cities, it was covert and nothing like it was down in Montgomery, Alabama and other southern cities where segregation was still very much in force. The level of poverty in the south was also far worse than they had seen up north. The Kings however settled in quickly in Montgomery and in November 1955 welcomed their first child Yolanda. This must have been a special year for the Kings because earlier the same year he had obtained his Doctorate Degree.

With the Pastorate, the Kings were offered a house 16 blocks from the church in a segregated neighbourhood. Though a little run-down, it was a nice 7-room house. Coretta soon put her music education and talents to use at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Choir. In December of that same 1955, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. sprung into the national spotlight when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, still regarded as one of America's most successful civil rights campaigns. This had been occassioned by an incident on December 1st 1955, when Rosa Parks, a black public bus rider refused to yield her seat to a white passenger, violating then Montgomery segregation law. Her arrest and jailing sparked the bus boycott which officially began on December 5th 1955. Coretta was all for the boycott but as one would expect, was also quite concerned about her husband's safety as leader of the boycott. All her fears were soon realised when in 1956 their house was bombed with her and her daughter inside. Luckily no one was injured. Rev. King, Jr. at the time of the bombing, was preaching at Dexter Avenue and had to be pulled from the pulpit by Rev. Ralph Abernathy to receive the terrifying news. When the angry congregation accompanied Rev. King, Jr. back to his house, he amazingly urged them to exercise restraint and not to retaliate or hate their white neighbours.

On November 20th 1956, almost a year into the boycott, the Montgomery Bus Boycott organisers got some pleasant news when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery Bus System's segregation policies were unconstitutional. This was great news for civil rights activists all across America and it catapulted the King family to international limelight. Their popularity and reknown were proven in March 1957 when they were among the world dignitaries invited to witness the ceremonies marking the independence of the West African country Ghana from Britain. This was the first trip outside the U.S. for Coretta and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. On June 10th 1957 religious leaders met at Atlanta, Georgia and formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC). The main goal for the SCLC was to fight segregation laws (Jim Crow laws) and register as many African- Americans to vote as was possible. Their modus operandi was civil disobedience as had been practised by the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi . In 1958, on invitation by the Gandhi Peace Foundation, the Kings left for India. Their high profile life however would soon create some conflicts of interest for Rev. King, Jr. whose congregation began feeling increasingly neglected when he was out on civil rights causes. His father Martin Luther King, Sr. came to the rescue by offering to take him as a co-pastor at his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. This freed up Rev. King, Jr. to pursue his civil rights duties without feeling guilty of neglecting his flock.

In 1960 the Kings moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia. During the early 60's the Kings had developed a special relationship with then U.S. President John F. Kennedy, whose influential family assisted them in their run-ins with the law. President John F. Kennedy's close relationship with the Kings endeared him greatly to black voters and other minorities. His outreach to minorities can only be matched by that of another U.S. President Bill Clinton, who incidentally shook his hand at the White House while still a teenager, and vowed to follow in his footsteps. In 1964 Coretta and her husband left for Oslo, Norway where her husband had gone to receive the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

Coretta's life almost came to a standstill on April 4th 1968 when she got news of her husband's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. Incidentally, Rev. Ralph Abernathy who had been beside Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., during his house bombing incident and broke the news to him, was also the last person to see him alive after the shooting in Memphis. Rev. King, Jr. apparently died in his arms. The circumstances surrounding Rev. King, Jr.'s death would later be the source of some deep controversy within African-American circles. It was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a close friend of the King's who started the controversy when he went on national television claiming Rev. King, Jr. had died in his arms. Coretta is said to have been so incensed at Rev. Jackson's remarks that she broke friendship ties with him completely. One thing she never broke ties with though is Rev. King's dream of a free and prosperous America. In addition to carrying on with the civil rights struggle where her husband left, she began working towards the creation of a living memorial for Rev King, Jr. Support for the memorial was overwhelming and it came from none other than U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Senators Hugh Scott and Edward Kennedy. Her dreams were realized in 1969 with the establishment of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia. That same year she published her first book, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.

She also began lobbying hard for the establishment of a national holiday honouring the life of Rev. Mrtin Luther King, Jr. In 1974 she received the United Nations Ceres Award for her work on behalf of underpriviledged people. In 1977 she was chosen to be a delegate to the first National Women's conference in Houston, Texas. She also became a public delegateto the General Assembly of the United Nations. On Jan 15th 1982 the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change was officially opened with Coretta as President and Chief Executive. Rev. King, Jr's remains were taken from South View Cemetery where they had been buried and placed inside this impressive complex. In 1983 she helped assemble some of her husband's most memorable speeches into a book called, The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.. In 1986 she went back to Africa, this time in South Africa, where she met Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela who was still serving his jail term. That same year her efforts were further rewarded when she received the great news that January 15th(Rev. King's birthday) had been declared a U.S. National Holiday. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the help of his wife Coretta Scott King, became the first African-American and clergyman to be honoured with a U.S. Federal Holiday.

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