Coretta Scott King was married to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. This year on January 18th we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to acknowledge the indelible mark left by a man who was tragically assassinated on April 4, 1968. We must not forget the accomplishments made by Coretta in her own tireless fight for racial, religious, and gender equality.
Here are some facts you may not know about this formidable woman:
1. Coretta Scott Was a Gifted Singer & Studied Music in College
Coretta Scott met her husband on the campus of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned a degree in voice and violin. Mrs. King told the Academy of Achievement that she was preparing for a career in music, but that her plans changed when she met Martin.
I always believed that there was a purpose for my life, and that I had to seek that purpose, and that if I discovered that purpose, then I believed that I would be successful in what I was doing. And I thought I had found that purpose when I decided that music was going to be my career — concert singing. I was going to be trained as a concert singer at the New England Conservatory of Music. I studied voice the first year, and after I met Martin and prayed about whether or not I should open myself to that relationship, I had a dream, and in that dream, I was made to feel that I should allow myself to be open and stop fighting the relationship. And that’s what I did, and of course the rest is history.
2. Coretta Scott King Lobbied for Her Husband’s Birthday to Be Made a National Holiday
Mrs. King established The King Center in 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia after Dr. King’s death. From its inception, The King Center staff members campaigned to acknowledge Dr. King’s birthday of January 15th as a national holiday. We now observe it on the third Monday of every January.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law. In January 1986, the holiday as we know it was observed for the first time.
Coretta wrote in an essay for The King Center about the meaning of the holiday.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, but above all a day of service. All across America on the Holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutoring those who can’t read, mentoring at-risk youngsters, consoling the broken-hearted and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.
3. Coretta Scott King Was an Early Feminist
Coretta and Martin were married in a ceremony conducted by Martin Luther King, Sr. on June 18, 1953. Coretta instructed her father-in-law to omit the phrase from the traditional wedding vows where she would promise to “obey her husband.” This was a bold stance for a woman to take for that time period.
Mrs. King continued to rally for women’s rights over the years, and was a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Ms. Magazine talks about the feminist legacy left by Coretta Scott King after her death.
4. Coretta Also Championed Rights for Gays & Lesbians
Coretta Scott King likened the fight for LGBT rights to that of the Civil Rights Movement. She was a keynote speaker at a 2003 Creating Change Conference, and annual event conducted by the National LGBTQ Task Force.
She was met with a great deal of opposition from those who did not wish to support the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples, even if they supported Dr. King’s fight for equality for African Americans. Coretta’s response to those critics in 1998 was:
I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. … But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.
5. Coretta Was the First Black Person & the First Woman To Lie in State in the Georgia Capitol Rotunda
Coretta Scott King died on January 30, 2006 after suffering multiple health setbacks including a heart condition, several strokes, and ovarian cancer. King’s funeral was attended by four Presidents: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter.