CORRECTED: Rights leader Coretta Scott King dies
(Please read in seventh paragraph … President and Mrs.
Bush are deeply … instead of … I’m deeply …)
A corrected story follows:
By Karen Jacobs
ATLANTA (Reuters) – Coretta Scott King, who surged to the
front of the fight for racial equality in America after her
husband Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, has died
at age 78, friends and family said on Tuesday.
King died overnight, the family said in a statement. She
suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack in August.
Mrs. King’s steely determination, grace and class won her
millions of admirers inside and outside the civil rights
She was last seen in public January 14 at a dinner marking
the Martin Luther King Jr., national holiday, where she
received a standing ovation from the 1,500 people in the crowd.
Rep. John Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia and
civil rights leader, said her death was “a very sad hour.”
“Long before she met and married Dr. King, she was an
activist for peace and civil rights and for civil liberties,”
he told CNN. “She became the embodiment, the personification
(of the civil rights movement after Dr. King’s death) …
keeping the mission, the message, the philosophy … of
nonviolence in the forefront.”
At the White House, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the
president, told Fox television: “President Bush and first lady
Laura Bush were always heartened by their meetings with Mrs.
King. What an inspiration to millions of people. President and
Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened by today’s news.”
Coretta Scott King played a back-up role in the civil
rights movement until her husband was assassinated on a Memphis
motel balcony on April 4, 1968, while supporting a sanitation
Mrs. King, who was in Atlanta at the time, learned of the
shooting in a telephone call from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a
call she later wrote, “I seemed subconsciously to have been
waiting for all of our lives.”
As she recalled in her autobiography “My Life With Martin
Luther King Jr.,” she felt she had to step fully into the civil
“Because his task was not finished, I felt that I must
re-dedicate myself to the completion of his work,” she said.
She created a memorial and a forum in the Martin Luther
King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. The
center has archives containing more than 2,000 King speeches
and is built around the King crypt and its eternal flame.
CHILDHOOD HOME TORCHED
Coretta Scott was born April 27, 1927, near Marion,
Alabama. Spending much of her early years on a farm, she saw
little prejudice until she reached high school, when she and
her sister were sent into town to board with a family while
attending Lincoln High School, a black school in the segregated
“It was awful,” she said of living in Marion. “Every
Saturday we would hear about some black man getting beat up,
and nothing was done about it.”
Her father had built up a small trucking business but his
success began to irritate poor whites in the area, she said,
and, after considerable harassment someone burned down the
Scott home on Thanksgiving night 1942.
“I guess I was being prepared for my role when I was
growing up, because when we were young children my father’s
life was in danger,” Mrs. King once told Reuters. “We were
afraid he was going to be killed.
“A white man threatened him, and he never ran. He was
fearless. He said, ‘If you look a white man in the eyes, he
can’t harm you.”‘
Church had always been a major part in young Coretta
Scott’s life, church and music, and she got a chance to explore
the latter in high school.
“Of course, I sang, I always sang,” she said but in high
school she learned to play the piano. She was about 15 when she
became choir director and pianist at her church.
Her sister Edythe won a scholarship to Antioch College in
Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1943, the first black student to
attend the school. Two years later, Coretta followed. One of
three blacks in her class, she made friends with whites, dated
a white boy during her junior year and worked on her music.
But, as the first black at the school to major in
elementary education she ran into discrimination that limited
the classrooms where she could student teach.
Antioch, she wrote, “gave me an increased understanding of
my own personal worth.” After graduation in 1951, she began
studying singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in
King, who was studying for his doctorate in theology at
Boston University, had told a mutual friend he was looking for
a wife. The friend gave him Coretta Scott’s phone number, but
when he came calling she was not impressed.
“I saw this green car coming up the street and this short
man. He leaned over to open the door, and when I got in the car
I saw this very young looking man. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I
expected to see a man but this is a boy.”‘
When he began to speak, however, the young Miss Scott
changed her mind.
There was never any doubt, either, that King was not going
to be content with the status quo. “Even at the time we were
courting,” she said, “Martin was deeply concerned — and
indignant — with the plight of the Negro in the United
They were married at her parents’ home on June 18, 1953,
and moved to Atlanta, where King was the co-pastor at Ebenezer
Baptist Church with his father.
The couple eventually had four children: Yolanda Denise,
born in 1955, Martin Luther, III, born in 1957, Dexter Scott,
born in 1961, and Bernice Albertine, born in 1963.
They moved in 1956 to Montgomery, Alabama, where the
26-year-old minister took over the pulpit at the Dexter Avenue
Baptist Church. It was there that he became active in the civil
rights movement, involving himself in the Montgomery bus