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Coretta Scott King passes away

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. has died at the age of 78. Coretta King, tireless crusader for civil rights, died in her sleep.

Mrs. King, who had been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, died late on Monday in Mexico, where she had been seeking treatment, a spokeswoman for the family told Reuters.

Coretta Scott King in 1979, seated 2nd from right

"Mrs. King was in Mexico for observation and consideration of treatment for ovarian cancer," the spokeswoman said. "She was considered terminal by physicians in the United States. She and the family wanted to explore other options." King died at Hospital Santa Monica, a holistic health center in Mexico.

News of her death led to tributes across Atlanta, including a moment of silence in the Georgia Capitol and piles of flowers at the tomb of her slain husband. Flags at the King Center - the institute devoted to the civil rights leader's legacy - were lowered to half-staff.

Dubbed the "first lady of the civil rights movement," Mrs King suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack in August. She was last seen on January 14 at a dinner marking the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, where she received a standing ovation.

As she recalled in her autobiography My Life With Martin Luther King Jr., Mrs. King felt she had to step fully into the civil rights movement after her husband's assassination.

After graduating from Antioch College in Ohio in 1951, she enrolled in the graduate program at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. It was there she met her future husband, a young preacher and doctoral student at Boston University. They were married in 1953.

Mrs. King had an influence on the civil rights movement for over half a century. She pushed and goaded politicians to have her husband's birthday observed as a national holiday. Following her husband's assassination in 1968, she fought to bring national recognition to King Jr. For over a decade, she lobbied to make King's birthday a federal holiday, and in 1983 the bill was signed into law. Three years later, the USA observed the first King holiday.

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.

Coretta Scott was born April 27, 1927, near Marion, Alabama. "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."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who in 1968 broke the news of King's death to Coretta, described her as a "freedom fighter". "She walked with her husband during the ordeal of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Their home was bombed, she endured the hate and violent anger toward their family. And she had to endure the constant knowledge that each time he left their home, he might never return," said Jackson. "She was the part of him that made him complete."

In 1969 she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta and used it to confront hunger, unemployment, voting rights and racism. "The centre enables us to go out and struggle against the evils in our society," she often said.

She also accused movie and TV companies, video arcades, gun manufacturers and toy makers of promoting violence. Coretta King has became a symbol in her own right of her husband's struggle for peace and brotherhood.

In his State of the Union Address, US President George W Bush remembered Mrs King, saying her "lasting contributions to freedom and equality have made America a better and more compassionate nation."

Mrs. King is survived by her four children, Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter and Bernice. The family issued a statement thanking the public for an outpouring of support.


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