Coretta Scott King was more than just the wife of an American hero; she was an icon in her own right, and her achievements should be honored alongside those of her husband.
On April 27th, 1927, the author, activist, civil rights pioneer, and singer was born in her parents’ house in Heiberger, Alabama. Her grandmother was a former slave who helped her give birth by acting as a midwife. Coretta’s mother and father were both poor, but her father instilled in her a love of learning and hard work. She started picking cotton on the family farm when she was ten years old. Coretta was a powerful young lady who liked to wrestle with the lads.
Coretta unintentionally cut her cousin with an ax when she was younger, while roughhousing with the boys. After a stern reprimand from her mother, Coretta began to act more ladylike as a result of the mishap.
In the Scott household, education was very important. Scott’s only requirement was that he attend school. The closest black school was roughly 9 miles away in the south, where schools were still separated. Fortunately for Coretta, her mother worked as a bus driver and was responsible for transporting all of the neighborhood’s black teenagers to school. Coretta’s mind and voice began to flourish in high school. She rose to become the school’s leading soprano, played trumpet and piano, and graduated valedictorian of her class.
Coretta went on to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she majored in music and found a calling in politics. After a battle with the school board over her desire to complete her teaching requirements by teaching in the local public school, she joined the NAACP chapter at her school. Music, however, continued to open doors for her despite her political zeal.
She was awarded a scholarship to Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music in 1952. She was contacted by a young guy named Martin Luther King while on campus, but he did not impress her. He’d received her phone number from one of her pals, but Coretta was more interested in music than in King. Coretta’s buddy eventually persuaded her to meet King, and the two went on a date. King was confident and a touch arrogant when he told Coretta that she possessed all of the attributes he desired in a bride. But Coretta, who was taken aback by his diminutive stature, couldn’t comprehend how King could know she was the one after they had only met for the first time. They continued to see one other, and Martin told his mother he had met his wife two weeks after they met. On June 18, 1953, they tied the knot.
Education was very important in the Scott home. Scott’s only stipulation was that he go to school. In the south, where schools were still segregated, the closest black school was around 9 miles away. Coretta was fortunate in that her mother worked as a bus driver, taking all of the neighborhood’s black teenagers to school. In high school, Coretta’s mind and voice began to blossom. She ascended through the ranks to become the school’s top soprano, and she also played trumpet and piano. She became valedictorian of her class.
Coretta continued her education at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, majoring in music and pursuing a career in politics. She joined the NAACP chapter at her school after a struggle with the school board over her intention to finish her teaching requirements by teaching in the local public school. Despite her political zeal, music continued to open opportunities for her. In 1964, Coretta would organize the “freedom concerts,” to raise money for the cause. Each show consisted of singing, poetry, and lectures all demonstrating the history of the civil rights movement.
Despite the fact that the civil rights movement was founded to fight for social change for African-Americans in America, it nonetheless reeked of men, and most black women in the movement were supposed to stay at home and raise children. Coretta gave up her dreams for the cause because of Martin Luther King’s expectations.
Martin Luther King Jr. became a full-time pastor in 1954, and Coretta taught Sunday school and joined the church choir, where she could showcase her singing abilities, although she had always envisioned a career in the music industry. Rather than letting her dreams slip away altogether, she found a way to merge the life she had built with her husband and her love of music.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Coretta became a significant leader in the civil rights movement after his death. She was also involved in the Women’s Movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and LGBTQ rights.
She also struggled and worked tirelessly to keep her husband Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy alive. She established The King Center in 1968 as the official monument dedicated to the development of MLK’s legacy and principles. She published her book, “My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” in 1969, and established the Coretta Scott King Award for best Black author/illustrator the same year. She also worked for years to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday, which was finally accomplished in 1986.
Coretta died on January 30, 2006, yet her legacy will carry on in perpetuity. The Coretta Scott King Book Award honors a black author or artist of children’s and young adult books who exemplify an understanding of African American culture and universal human ideals. After her death, she was given various honors, including the Golden Plate Award and the Gandhi Peace Prize, as well as having Super Bowl XL dedicated to her and Rosa Parks. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame, among other honors.