Coretta Scott King

Lived:April 27, 1927—January 30, 2006 (aged 78)
Career:Civil rights, women's rights, human rights, equal rights activist and author
Education:B.A., Antioch College
New England Conservatory of Music

Coretta Scott King was an author, activist, and civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. She helped lead the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

King was born in Heiberger, Alabama, and raised on her parent's farm in Perry County, Alabama. She was exposed at an early age to the injustices of life in a segregated society. She walked five miles a day to attend the one-room Crossroads School in Marion, Alabama, while the white students rode buses to an all-white school closer by. She excelled at her studies, particularly music, and was valedictorian of her graduating class at Lincoln High School. She graduated in 1945 and received a scholarship to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

As an undergraduate, she took an active interest in the nascent civil rights movement. She joined the Antioch chapter of the NAACP and the college's Race Relations and Civil Liberties committees. She graduated from Antioch with a B.A. in music and education and won a scholarship to study concert singing at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

In Boston, she met a young theology student, Martin Luther King, Jr. They were married on June 18, 1953. Mrs. King completed her degree in voice and violin at the New England Conservatory and the young couple moved in September 1954 to Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King had accepted an appointment as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Dr. King's eloquent advocacy of nonviolent civil disobedience soon made him the most recognizable face of the civil rights movement. The visibility of Dr. King's leadership attracted fierce opposition from the supporters of institutionalized racism. In 1956, white supremacists bombed the King family home in Montgomery. Mrs. King and the couple's first child narrowly escaped injury.

The Kings had four children, and although the demands of raising a family had caused Mrs. King to retire from singing, she conceived and performed a series of critically acclaimed Freedom Concerts, combining poetry, narration and music to tell the story of the Civil Rights movement. Over the next few years, Mrs. King staged Freedom Concerts in some of America's most distinguished concert venues as fundraisers for the organization her husband had founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King's leadership of the movement for human rights was recognized on the international stage when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In 1964, Mrs. King accompanied her husband when he traveled to Oslo, Norway, to accept the prize.

In the 1960s, King found herself in increasing demand as a public speaker. She became 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 Strive for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 1962. King became 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.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Channeling her grief, Mrs. King concentrated her energies on fulfilling her husband's work by building The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to her husband's life and dream. In 1969, she published the first volume of her autobiography, "My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr." In the 1970s, King maintained her husband's commitment to the cause of economic justice. In 1974, she formed and served as co-chair of the Full Employment Action Council, a coalition of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil and women's rights organizations dedicated to a national policy of full employment and equal economic opportunity. King continued to serve the cause of justice and human rights; her travels took her throughout the world on goodwill missions to Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. In 1983, she marked the 20th anniversary of the historic March on Washington by leading a gathering of more than 800 human rights organizations, the Coalition of Conscience, in the largest demonstration the capital city had seen up to that time.

King led the successful campaign to establish Dr. King's birthday, January 15th, as a U.S. national holiday. By an act of Congress, the first national observance of the holiday took place in 1986. Dr. King's birthday is now marked by annual celebrations in over 100 countries. King was invited by President Clinton to witness 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, King and three of her children were arrested at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C., for protesting against that country's apartheid system of racial segregation and disenfranchisement. Ten years later, she stood with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when he was sworn in as president of South Africa.

In 1995, King turned over leadership of the center to her son, Dexter Scott King. She remained active in the causes of racial and economic justice, and in her remaining years devoted much of her energy to AIDS education and curbing gun violence. Although she died in 2006 at the age of 78, she remains an inspirational figure to men and women around the world.