“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”
“My story is a freedom song of struggle. It is about finding one’s purpose, how to overcome fear and to stand up for causes bigger than one’s self.”
– Coretta Scott King
Imagine the year 1904, when Coretta Scott King was born. She was the third of four children born in her parents’ home with her great-grandmother presiding as midwife. Her maternal grandparents were Mollie and Martin Van Buren McMurray born to slave owners. Martin taught himself how to read and had a passion for education, which inspired Coretta to dream of an education for herself. Coretta quoted her mother as saying, “My children are going to college, even it if means I only have but one dress to put on.”
And so it came to be, the Scott children attended a one-room school and later Lincoln Normal School, a segregated black high school. During her junior and senior years, she was the leading soprano for the school choir and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1945.
Coretta won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. It was while studying there that she met Martin Luther King Jr. While dating, their conversations centered around politics and racial discussions. Coretta found herself becoming more involved as she came to know Martin as a man who embodied some of the same characteristics as her father. However, Martin Luther King Sr. was not as sure of Coretta, as he insinuated that her career in music would hinder Martin Jr.’s future. She refused to answer questions regarding their romance as he stated that there were many women who were interested in his son who had a lot to offer. With that in mind, Coretta is quoted as saying “… she had much to offer and did not need to bargain for a husband.” Through that quote, it became apparent that Coretta was a women with a mind of her own and that she was going to walk hand-in-hand with Martin Luther King Jr.
Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King Jr. were married on June 18, 1953 on the lawn of her mother’s home and the ceremony was performed by Martin Luther King Sr. Coretta removed the vow to “obey” her husband, which was highly unusual at the time.
Two days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, Coretta gave her first statement, which embodied her husband’s vision, “If a man had nothing that was worth dying for, then he was not fit to live.” She spoke about his ideals and his dream and spirit that would forever live on.
Here are some lesser known facts about Coretta Scott King:
- She campaigned to designate Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday
- She was an early protester against the Vietnam war
- She spent nearly a month on pilgrimage in India
- She founded The King Center
- There is a Coretta Scott King forest in Northern Israel
- She was arrested for protesting apartheid
Coretta King Scott died on January 30, 2006 from respiratory failure due to cancer. Her funeral was attended by 10,000 people, including four of five living U.S. presidents. She was the first African American to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol.
She was, “The First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement.”