Long Live the Legacy of Coretta Scott King

“What most did not understand then was that I was not only married to the man that I love, but I was also married to the movement that I loved.”

By Korrien Hopkins

Martin Luther King Jr. may be the United States’ most well-known civil rights activist of all time, but there’s no denying that his wife Coretta Scott King was a hero in her own right.

Coretta, born and raised in Marion, Alabama, graduated from high school as valedictorian in 1945. She studied singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston when she met Dr. King. After the two married in 1953, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama and had four children.

Coretta, a classically trained musician, gave up her dream of becoming a singer and became “The First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement.” She devoted much of her time to raising their children during King’s career as a pastor and activist, though she would often speak about civil rights at churches, colleges, and other organizations.

Two months after her husband was assassinated in 1968, Coretta founded The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She took on leadership within the movement for racial equality and fought to make her husband’s birthday a federal holiday for nearly two decades. She oversaw the first nationally observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 20, 1986.

Coretta continued to make history throughout her life by working fearlessly to create the change her husband had worked so hard for. She became the first woman to deliver the annual class day address at Harvard University and the first woman to preach at a worship service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. During her remarkable life, she received over 60 honorary doctorates and helped found dozens of organizations dedicated to advancing human rights. She was a leader in the women’s movement and a fierce defender of LGBTQ rights.

Coretta Scott King died from ovarian cancer on January 30, 2006. She became the first woman and first African American to lie in honor in the Georgia state capitol’s rotunda. The “First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement” powerful legacy continues to live on today. Although there is no Coretta Scott King Day, it’s important that we acknowledge these sacrifices made by her and many women like Coretta. She, like many women, made sacrifices for the sake of the advancement of all, even when the cost was her own well-being. These sacrifices should be held to a high standard because without her legacy, the legacy of her husband would be far different. She showed the world that a person can only be as strong as their partner. She showed the power of women in the movement and is still a role model for many women today. I will always uplift her legacy and strive to be as powerful as she was.

“The woman power of this nation can be the power which makes us whole and heals the rotten community, now so shattered by war and poverty and racism. I have great faith in the power of women who will dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to the task of remaking our society.”  – Coretta Scott King