Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Coretta Scott King

Getty Activist and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King is pictured at a London hotel on March 21, 1969.

Coretta Scott King is widely referred to as the “first lady of civil rights.” She was married to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement. The third Monday in January is celebrated to remember MLK Jr. for his leadership, inspirational speeches and peaceful protests. Throughout his activism, Scott King fought for racial and gender equality—and she continued to after his assassination.

Scott King was born in 1927 in Marion, Alabama. She went to school at Antioch College in Ohio and received a Bachelor of Arts in music and education in 1951. She was then awarded a fellowship to attend New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, earning a degree in violin and voice. That’s where she met MLK, Jr., who was studying theology at the time. They were married in 1953 and started their family together in Montgomery, Alabama. They had four children together: Yolanda, Martin Luther, III, Dexter and Bernice.

Two years later, they became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, standing up for racial equality after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person. After he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, Scott King’s activism didn’t cease. She carried on his legacy and started the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center Nonviolent Social Change. She lobbied to make MLK Jr. Day a federal holiday, with President Ronald Reagan signing it into legislation in 1983.

To find out more about Coretta Scott King, continue reading for five fast facts:

  1. 1. Her First Love Was Music

  1. Before meeting MLK, Jr., Scott King thought her purpose in life was to move people through music. She later went on to incorporate music into her activism. She might have gone on a different path if she didn’t mean MLK, Jr.

“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,” she told the American Academy of Achievement. “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.”

She merged her activism with music when she created the “Freedom Concert,” where she told stories of the civil rights movement.

  1. 2. She Stood Up For Gender Equality

After his assassination, not everyone was pleased when Scott King started to fight for equality in MLK Jr.’s place. While fighting for civil rights, some men and women said Scott King should not be involved in activism—that it was for the men.

But Scott King was not be deterred. “Most thought that women should stay in the shadows,” she said, as noted by the Guadian. “However I felt that as women, we had much to contribute. In fact for the longest time, way before I married Martin, I had believed that women should allow our essence and presence to shine, rather than letting ourselves be buried or shunted to the sidelines.”

Even before MLK, Jr.’s death, Scott King talked about women leaders in the Civil Rights Movement being diminished. “Not enough attention has been focused on the roles played by women in the struggle,” she wrote in 1966. “Women have been the backbone of the whole civil rights movement … Women have been the ones who have made it possible for the movement to be a mass movement.”

  1. 3. She Championed For LGBT Rights

For Scott King, LGBT rights were no different than fighting for the rights of black Americans. Though she faced backlash from some of her supporters, she continued to fight for equality for everyone. In 2003, she gave at speech at the Creating Change Conference, an event led every year by the National LGBTQ Task Force.

For those who criticized her, she reminded them of what her late husband preached. “I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people,” she said in 1998.

She also denounced former President George W. Bush when he said marriage was only between a man and a woman. “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union,” she said in 2004, according to the Huffington Post. “A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing to protect traditional marriages.”

  1. 4. She Never Waivered In Her Stance Against Violence

Coretta Scott King

Coretta flashes the V for Victory hand signal at a demonstration against the war in Indochina on May 9, 1970 in Washington, DC. In addition to her peaceful demonstrations, Mrs. King believed in nuclear disarmament. (Photo by Gene Forte/Getty Images)

Scott King said her religious upbringing is why she was against violence. She encountered racism throughout her life, with arsonists burning down her house when she was 15 years old. A bomb was placed on her front porch in Alabama, she recived hate calls and and MLK, Jr. received death threats.

“I believe that you have to try to resolve your conflicts without violence,” she told the American Academy of Achievement. “I believe that you have to give something back to society that has nurtured you and so I never got to the point where I felt that nonviolence was not viable. I just felt that when there was violence and it came from within, and very seldom violence did come from within, I realized that it wasn’t that it wouldn’t work, it’s that people didn’t follow the proper steps in trying to achieve it because there are a set of principles and there are a set of steps in the methodology that we were taught about nonviolence.”

  1. 5. Scott King’s Funeral Was Held At The Georgia State Capitol

She died in Rosarito, Mexico, when she was 78 years old on January 30, 2006. She had faced multiple setbacks in her health leading up to her death, including multiple strokes, a heart condition and ovarian cancer.

At her funeral, where more than 16,000 people paid their respects, Scott King became the first African American and the first woman to be laid to rest at the Georgia State Capitol. Four presidents attended her funeral: Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Former President Barack Obama, who was a senator at the time, was also present. George W. Bush, who was president at the time, said: “Mrs. King was a remarkable and courageous woman, and a great civil rights leader. Mrs. King’s lasting contributions to freedom and equality have made America a better and more compassionate nation.”

She was buried next to as buried next to MLK, Jr. in a crypt on the grounds of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

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