Born and raised on a farm in Perry County, Alabama, Coretta Scott (1927-2006) was introduced to the segregated society at an early age and lived a discriminated life for many years. Even though she attended a one-room school for low-income blacks in her neighbourhood, Scott excelled in her studies, especially music, and rose as a singer. Graduating from Lincoln High School, Scott was chosen as its valedictorian in 1945 followed by a scholarship from Antioch College, Ohio.
Graduating as a Bachelor of Arts with a degree in music and education, Scott proceeded to her next institute, New England Conservatory of Music in Boston with a fellowship awarded to her name. In the early 1950s, the talented individual earned her second collegiate degree in voice and violin.
Moving to Montgomery in 1953 with her husband who she met in her former institute, Scott began to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement while simultaneously working alongside her husband in the Baptist Church throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As an active member, Scott took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, attended Ghana’s Independence Day in 1957 and traveled on a pilgrimage to India in 1959. She was also one of the civil rights workers to contribute towards the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
As her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., established himself as the most recognizable face of the Civil Rights Movement, the couple became a source of inspiration for the other citizens, both white and black, to defy segregation laws. However, the couple’s journey to success was not free of hurdles and they faced opposition from the supporters of institutionalized racism. The same white supermacists also bombed the Kings’ family home in 1956.
Mother of four and a devoted wife, Scott had to sacrifice her singing career in order to serve her family. However, she was quick in finding an alternative use for her musical talents and conceived and performed a series of Freedom Concerts. Using a combination of poetry, narration and music, the concerts not only conveyed the story of the Civil Rights Movement but also acted as fundraisers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization founded by Scott’s husband.
As his message of peace and economic justice reached international levels, King’s wife found herself in increasing demand as a public speaker, and in the 1960s, she became the first woman to deliver the Class Day address at Harvard along with the honor of being the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A liaison for international peace and justice, Scott served as a Women’s Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference of 1962 in Geneva.
After her husband’s assassination in 1968, Scott devoted her energies towards completing the work that he had left off and built The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in his memory.
Putting her life experiences into words, Scott published her autobiography, My Life with Martin Luther King, in 1969. In 1974, she formed the Full Employment Action Council, consisting of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil and women’s rights organizations, and acted as its Co-Chair.
Remembered for her bravery and contributions to the Civil Rights Movement even today, Coretta Scott King remained involved with The Kings Center for several years before turning over the leadership to her son, Dexter Scott King, in 1995. The inspirational figure later passed away on January 30, 2006 at the age of 78.