Wednesday, February 01, 2006
One Woman's Journey
One Woman’s Journey
As a child, Coretta Scott walked five miles to attend a one-room segregated school in Marion, Alabama while white children rode buses to the closer, all-white school. She earned a B.A. in music and education from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, followed by a post-graduate degree in voice and violin from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where she met and married young theology student Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1953.
Coretta and Martin’s earthly marriage lasted just two months’ shy of fourteen years, during which they traveled to Africa in 1957 to celebrate Ghana’s independence, and to India in 1959 to honor the memory of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1964, Mrs. King accompanied her husband to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Far more than a great and famous man’s appendage, Coretta Scott King was a sought-after public speaker in her own right. She was the first woman to deliver the Class Day address at Harvard and the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. She served as a Women's Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1962. Mrs. King was a liaison to international peace and justice organizations even before Dr. King took a public stand in 1967 against United States intervention in the Vietnam War.
Following Dr. King’s murder, Coretta continued to serve the cause of justice and human rights. In 1969, she published the first volume of her autobiography, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr. The Coretta Scott King Award, created in her honor and established by the American Library Association in 1969, is presented annually to an African American author and an African American illustrator for an outstandingly inspirational and educational contribution published during the previous year.
In 1974, she formed a broad coalition of religious, business, labor, civil and women’s rights organizations which were dedicated to a national policy of full employment and equal economic opportunities. Named the Full Employment Action Council, Mrs. King served as Co-Chair.
Mrs. King built The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to her husband's life and dream. Opened to the public in 1981, the King Center is part of a 23-acre national historic site. The first institution built in memory of an African American leader, its library and archives house the largest collection of documents from the Civil Rights era.
Coretta King was instrumental in establishing Dr. King's birthday as a national holiday. In 1983, an act of Congress instituted the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, which she chaired for its duration.
She campaigned on goodwill missions to Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. In 1983, she commemorated the 20th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington by leading the Coalition of Conscience, a gathering of more than 800 human rights organizations, in the largest demonstration Washington, D.C. had seen up to that time.
Finally in January 1986, Mrs. King oversaw the first legal holiday in honor of her husband. In 1987, she co-led a national Mobilization Against Fear and Intimidation in Forsyth County, Georgia. In 1988, she re-convened the Coalition of Conscience for the 25th anniversary of the March on Washington, and served as head of the U.S. delegation of Women for a Meaningful Summit in Athens, Greece. In 1990, as the USSR was redefining itself, Mrs. King was co-convener of the Soviet-American Women's Summit in Washington, DC.
This black woman from Perry County, Alabama witnessed, at the invitation of President Clinton, the historic handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yassir Arafat at the signing of the Middle East Peace Accords in 1993. In 1985 Mrs. King was arrested outside the South African embassy for protesting against their apartheid system of racial segregation and disenfranchisement. A decade later she stood with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when he was sworn in as President of South Africa.
One of the most influential African-American leaders of our time, Mrs. King received honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities; authored three books and a nationally-syndicated column; and helped found dozens of organizations, including the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable. Though physically limited in her last decade, Coretta Scott King continued to actively promote racial and economic justice, AIDS education, and advocated curbing gun violence.
Coretta Scott King traveled a long way for a young girl raised in Perry County, Alabama; the world is a far better place because of her journey.
© 2006 Ginger Hamilton Caudill