Commentary: Remembering Coretta Scott King, first lady
of civil rights
|A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
Coretta Scott King knew the injustice of segregation from her childhood, says the Rev. Chester Jones.
Feb. 1, 2006
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Chester Jones*
Biographer Lynn Norment wrote that “Although she first achieved prominence as
the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a famous and charismatic leader, Coretta
Scott King has made the transition from the supportive spouse to establishing
herself as a leader in her own right.”
From the time Dr. King was chosen to lead the historic bus boycott until he was
assassinated in Memphis, Mrs. King was by his side. Coretta was at his side in
every civil rights demonstration. She traveled from Montgomery to India, from
Washington to Oslo with Martin to support civil and human rights.
Mrs. King considered it a privilege and a blessing to be the wife and partner of
a person who had such a profound influence on civil rights. But she was also
clear that her commitment stretched back further than her marriage to Martin.
Growing up in the Jim Crow South, she knew the injustice of segregation from her
childhood. She once told a reporter, “I didn’t learn my commitment from Martin;
we just converged at a certain time.”
It was this longstanding commitment that inspired her continued involvement
beyond Dr. King’s assassination. Her commitment to living the dream helped her
overcome fear. Less than a week after Dr. King’s death, Mrs. King and her three
oldest children led the march through Memphis on behalf of the sanitation
She continued this activism throughout her life and expanded her commitments
beyond those of race. She participated in the “Poor Man’s March,” met with
Nelson Mandela in South Africa to work against apartheid and served on the board
of the National Organization of Women. She called all women “to fight the three
great evils of racism, poverty and war.”
She also worked to continue the dream of her husband by establishing the Martin
Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Her work and
efforts there and around the world, continue to remind us that Martin’s dream
remains unfulfilled, that ending racism is still an unfinished agenda. However,
through the work of both Martin and Coretta, the world has been blessed to see
the influence and impact one couple can have on a movement.
Through Mrs. King’s efforts, a bill was passed by Congress and signed by
President Reagan to make the third Monday in January a celebration in honor of
Dr. King. The work that she did in organizing petitions, gathering signatures
and vigilantly lobbying Congress on behalf of this holiday exemplified Mrs.
King’s persistence and commitment to keeping her husband’s legacy alive.
My heart was touched when President Bush walked up to the podium to deliver the
State of the Union address and paused to honor Mrs. King. He said, “Today our
nation lost a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its
founding ideals and carried on a noble dream. Tonight we are comforted by the
hope of a glad reunion with the husband who was taken so long ago, and we are
grateful for the good life of Coretta Scott King.”
As we celebrate Mrs. King’s life, we must renew our commitment to the dream she
shared with Dr. King — that we should all be free some day.
*Jones is top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and
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