While America takes time to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his incredible leadership, we also need to take time to celebrate and recognize the strength, sacrifice, and bravery of the one person by his side each and every step of the way: his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Clearly gifted and brilliant from a very young age, Coretta Scott endured unbearably unfair conditions throughout her years of public education, persevering through graduation at the top of her class. She received a scholarship to Antioch College in Ohio where she pursued her two gifts of music and education while at the same time actively engaging in the debate for civil rights on her campus through the local chapter of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and college Race Relations committee. Upon learning she would not be allowed to teach music in white schools even after receiving her college degree, she set her sights elsewhere and won a scholarship to study concert singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where she would meet and marry Dr. King.
Her many ventures in the Civil Rights Movement began alongside Dr. King's, the first being the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. As Dr. King's involvement in and leadership of the Civil Rights Movement multiplied, his recognition increased. And as his recognition increased, so did the hatred against him and his family. Coretta Scott King was there through it all, marching beside him down the street and narrowly escaping injury or death as bombs were thrown at their home. Amidst all of their incredible, impactful, and powerful journeys together, Mrs. King also managed to raise four children and maintain her passion for music while simultaneously supporting the ever important cause of racial equality through the establishment of Freedom Concerts. These events, combinations of narration, poetry, and music through which she was able to tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement, were held in major venues across the nation and raised large amounts of money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of which her husband was a leader.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically assassinated on April 4, 1968, Mrs. King's fight for civil rights did not end. Rather than let her husband's dreams for a better world die with him, she spent the rest of her life working to raise the funds necessary to establish The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which has served since its opening in 1981 as a memorial to Dr. King's life and a reminder of the continuing efforts required to achieve true equality.
Coretta Scott King's accomplishments do not end with the successful launching of the King Center, as this was but a glimpse of what an incredible woman she was. She established the Full Employment Action Council and served as co-chair; traveled throughout the world on goodwill missions aimed at nonviolent social change; was invited to the signing of the Middle East Peace Accords by President Clinton; arrested for protesting apartheid and racial segregation of South Africa, and stood next to Nelson Mandela ten years later as he was sworn in as President of that same nation. She was the first woman to deliver a Class Day address at Harvard University and the first woman to preach at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and she served as a delegate at the Women's Strike for Peace Disarmament Conference in 1962, taking a leadership role in the negotiations for international peace even before her husband spoke out against American involvement in Vietnam.
Until the day she died in 2006, Coretta Scott King dedicated her life to the cause of civil rights, to equality, to the fair and just treatment of all, as she continued to speak out against injustice in all forms, including race, gender, socioeconomic, and sexuality. She is, to this day, seen as a powerful and prominent voice of change, one this world and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could not have done without.
So as we celebrate the life of Dr. King, and honor the incredible change he brought to our nation, let us not forget the woman who led the campaign that brought about the Act of Congress that established this day of remembrance for her husband. Let us not forget to celebrate and honor Coretta Scott King, a woman who lived with purpose.