Coretta Scott was born on April 27, 1927, in Perry County, Alabama, into a family who managed land since the Civil War. Coretta Scott’s parents, Obadiah and Bernice Scott, were truck farmers. Despite being financially more successful than most African Americans in Alabama, life for them and their children was hard. Along with her mother and sister, Scott helped with the family garden and crops, fed the chickens and hogs, and milked the cows. She also assisted the family revenue by hiring out to hoe and pick cotton.
According to King, her “early schooling was affected by the system of segregation”. Rain or shine, she walked six miles to and from school every day, while white students were open to better facilities and teachers. After she finished six grades at the elementary school that “did not do much to prepare” her, she enrolled in Lincoln High School in Marion, Alabama. Lincoln, a semiprivate American Missionary Association institute, “was as good as any school, white or black, in the area,” she was quoted as saying. She acquired a passion in music at Lincoln; with motivation from her instructors, she decided that music would be her career.
Scott graduated as valedictorian of her high school class, in 1945, and obtained a partial scholarship in Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Determined to evade southern racial aggression, Coretta Scott enrolled at Antioch, only to find that bigotry and racial discrimination were well a problem there, too. Being the first African American to study elementary education at Antioch caused problems for her; this area required a two-year placement, with one year in the Antioch private elementary school and the other in the Ohio public schools. Though the year spent at Antioch, where Scott taught music, went well, the Yellow Springs School Board did not permit her to teach in its school system. The student body was interracial, but the faculty was all white. Provided the alternative of going to Xenia, Ohio, to teach in an all black school or staying at the Antioch private school for another year, she chose the latter.
Discrimination made Scott firm like never before; she joined the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a race relations commission and a civil freedoms commission. According to the young college undergraduate, “I was active on all of them. From the first, I had been determined to get ahead, not just for myself, but to do something for my people and for all people. I took to my heart the words of Horace Mann, ‘Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.’”
In spite of her unlucky practice teaching knowledge, Scott’s undergraduate years at Antioch were satisfying ones. Her time there reiterated and reinforced the value of providing and distributing what had been inspired at her home and at Lincoln High School. She learned to struggle for brilliance; she recognized the school with strengthening her belief “that individuals as well as society could move toward the democratic ideal of brotherhood”. At Antioch, Scott became a strong African American woman, convinced that she could contend with "all people of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds“ on their own standards or on hers. Scott claimed that "the total experience of Antioch“ was a significant factor in preparing her for the task as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for her involvement in the Civil Rights movement.
At Antioch, Coretta Scott recognized that she wanted to continue with music and to build up her voice to its full potential. She subsequently enrolled in the New England Conservatory in Boston, from where she graduated in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in music. It was in Boston where she met Martin Luther King, Jr. They were married on June 18, 1953. Her decision to marry the 24-year-old reverend meant that she needed to renounce her career as a performing concert artist.
The Kings moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1954, where Martin Luther King, Jr. would pastor the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; it was here where Dr. and Mrs. King were recruited into the leadership of the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King was recognized as the movement’s main leader, but Coretta Scott King was also very much involved in it. She actively participated in the organizing and planning as well as in the demonstrations and boycotts. Her life was likewise in danger. She gave “Freedom Funds” to raise finances for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and for the association and delivered speeches across the nation, often standing in for Dr. King.
Even after Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, Mrs. King remained active in the Civil Rights movement. Four days after her husband’s violent death, the sorrowful widow and three of her four children returned to Memphis to direct the march Martin had organized. In June 1968, she spoke at the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., a gathering that her husband had been excitedly planning before his death; in May 1969, she led a protest of striking hospital employees in Charleston, South Carolina.
King, besides her role in the Civil Rights movement, was an active participant in the peace movement, denouncing the Vietnam War as “the most cruel and evil war in the history of mankind.” In 1961, as a representative from the Women’s Strike for Peace, she was present at a 17-country disarmament conference in Geneva, Switzerland. King was later worried about full employment; she swore in Washington in accord of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1976, and in requesting equality and financial justice for women.
The receiver of a number of honorary degrees and awards, Coretta Scott King led and co-led various national commissions and continued to serve on the board of directors of the SCLC. She was also president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change, in Atlanta, Georgia, continuing to campaign for world peace, full employment, and social justice. In 1995, the Kings’ second son, Dexter Scott King, took over as chairman and CEO of the King Center. Coretta Scott King and Dexter Scott King requested a new trial for James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing Dr. King. The King family and novelist William F. Pepper have raised worries that a government conspiracy was involved and that Ray did not act unassisted. Ray retained his innocence, but he died on April 23, 1998, before he could have another trial.
Coretta Scott King died late in the evening of January 30, 2006 at a treatment center in the Oasis Hospital in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where she undertook holistic therapy for her stroke and advanced stage ovarian cancer; King was 78. The primary cause of her death is believed to be respiratory stoppage due to difficulties from ovarian cancer. The treatment center at which she died was called the Hospital Santa Monica, but it was certified as Clinica Santo Tomas. Newspaper intelligence proved that the clinic was not lawfully certified to “perform surgery, take X-rays, perform laboratory work or run an internal pharmacy, all of which it was doing.” It was also established, owned, and operated by San Diego inhabitant and highly controversial alternative medicine figure Kurt Donsbach. In the days following Mrs. King’s passing, the Baja California, Mexico state commissioner, Dr. Francisco Vera, closed down that clinic.
“Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.” “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.” “If American women increase their voting turnout by ten percent, I think we would see an end to all of the budget cuts in programs benefiting women and children.” “There is a spirit and a need and a man at the beginning of every great human advance. Every one of these must be right for that particular moment in history or nothing happens.” “When Good Friday comes, these are the moments in life when we feel theres no hope. But then, Easter comes.”
My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr. (1969) The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1984) The Martin Luther King, Jr. Companion (1992) Diana Ross (1995) I Have A Dream (1997)