Coretta Scott King is known as the wife of the legendary civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Dr. King). However, she was also one of the most influential African American female leaders in Black history. Aside from being a wife and mother, King was also a human rights activist and leader, anti-war activist, author and speech writer.
Mrs. King was born on April 27, 1927 in Marion, Alabama. She was the youngest daughter of Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurry Scott. King excelled in school, she was the valedictorian of her graduating class at Lincoln High School.
In 1945, she received a scholarship to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. There, she became interested in the Civil Rights Movement; which led to her join the Antioch chapter of the NAACP and the Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees on campus. Later, King graduated from Antioch College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and education.
In 1951, King received a scholarship to study concert singing at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. King received her second degree in voice and violin.
While In Boston, she met Dr. King who was studying for his Ph.D. The two married on June 18, 1953, moved to Montgomery, Alabama and had four children: Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice Albertine.
Civil and Human Rights Activist
Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, King spent time working side-by-side with her husband doing civil rights related work and juggling the role of motherhood.
In 1955, King took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, traveled to Ghana to mark that nation’s independence, traveled to India and worked on getting the the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed.
King also spoke before the church, civic, college, fraternal and peace groups and performed at freedom concerts which acted as fundraisers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization Dr. King served as first president. Aside from her various civil rights related work, King also worked as a public mediator and liaison to peace and justice organizations.
Life after MLK
Following Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, Mrs. King devoted her time to building and creating programs for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. There she served as the president and the chief executive officer.
She also led a campaign to establish Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. In January 1986, Mrs. King oversaw the first legal holiday in honor of Dr. King and his accomplishments.
In 1962, she served as a Women’s Strike for Peace delegate to the seventeen-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. She was the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard, and preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
In 1974, King acted as an advocate for interracial coalitions, formed a broad coalition of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil and women’s right organizations committed to a national policy of full employment and equal economic opportunity, where she acted as the co-chair for both the National Committee for Full Employment and the Full Employment Action Council.
In 2006, King passed away. According to the King Center, she has been interred alongside Dr. King in a memorial crypt in the reflecting pool of the King Center’s Freedom Hall Complex.
Throughout her life, King made an impact as one of the most influential African American female leaders of her time. She received honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities, wrote three books and a nationally published newspaper column and helped serve and fund organizations such as the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable. Both Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. have set the foundation for the African American men and women civil rights leaders who came after them.