Coretta Scott King: Biography, Books & Accomplishments

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Her husband even has his own holiday, but you might not know too much at all about Coretta Scott King. Find out more about this civil rights leader - a legend in her own right - in this lesson on the life and legacy of Mrs. King.

Civil Rights' First Lady: A Brief Biography of Coretta Scott King

What do you think of when you remember Martin Luther King, Jr.? You might think about the day off from school in January, or you'll almost certainly recall at least some part of his famous 'I have a dream' speech. But do you ever think of the people who helped Dr. King achieve the things he did, who supported him, who stood by him when the whole world seemed to be against him? During his struggles to secure the freedoms of all people in the U.S. and around the world, there was one person who never left his side: his wife, Coretta Scott King, whose own life is no less influential and inspiring than her husband's.

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), African-American civil rights leader and author
Photo of Coretta Scott King

Born 27 April 1927, Coretta Scott showed promise early on even while growing up in Marion, Alabama. She graduated as valedictorian from Lincoln High School and went on to get her bachelor's degree in music and education from Antioch College in Ohio. Coretta continued her education in music at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, studying concert singing and taking a degree in voice and violin in the early 1950's. While at the Conservatory, she met a theology student at Boston University, and on 18 June 1953 Coretta became Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After their wedding, the couple moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and their lives as civil rights leaders really took off. Throughout the 1950's and 60's, the two spent a great deal of their time involved in various protests, demonstrations, and summits, including the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, along with trips to Ghana and India. They also tirelessly worked at home to bring justice and liberty as prominent leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, while still balancing duties to their four young children. All this work would pay off, though, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964.

Though Coretta and Martin were a powerful duo, she had worked on her own before and continued to champion civil rights long after his assassination on 4 April 1968. For instance, recalling her musical background, Coretta had organized several 'Freedom Concerts' to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and had spoken in support of personal liberty at various functions and gatherings. Mrs. King honored her husband's legacy by leaving one of her own, continuing their work of spreading peace and human dignity throughout the world all the way until her death in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico on 30 January 2006 following a heart attack and stroke the year before. Keep reading to get a look at just a few of the myriad accomplishments of this 'First Lady' of civil rights.

Accomplishments of Coretta Scott King

Almost immediately following Martin's death, Coretta worked diligently to found the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia. As of 1980, the Center acquired 23 additional acres, allowing it to house an entire museum complex devoted to the King's legacy and their cause. It also serves as the couple's final resting place.

Also in the 1980's, Coretta began a huge educational campaign pushing for the observance of Martin's birthday as a national holiday. In 1983, Congress held a commission for the creation of the federal holiday that was headed by Coretta. And, in 1986, she presided over the first official celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is now held every third Monday of January.

Mrs. King was instrumental in several high-level peace summits and encountered and impacted a number of prominent religious and political figures throughout the world, including Pope John Paul, the Dalai Lama, Yassir Arafat, and Nelson Mandela. Beginning in 1970, she was also honored with the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which commemorate her life's work while recognizing outstanding authors who advance African-American culture and universal human rights.

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