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Coretta Scott King

April 27, 1927 - January 30, 2006




Coretta Scott King was an American civil rights activist and the wife of 1960s civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Coretta Scott King was an American civil rights activist and the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. She established a distinguished career in activism in her own right. Working side-by-side with her husband, she took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and worked to pass the Civil Rights Act. After King's death, she founded the Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

Early Life

Coretta Scott King was born Coretta Scott on April 27, 1927, in Marion, Alabama. In her early life, Coretta was as well known for her singing and violin playing as her civil rights activism. She attended Lincoln High School, graduating as the school's valedictorian in 1945, and then enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and education. After graduating from Antioch, Coretta was awarded a fellowship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, the city where she would meet her future husband, famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (At the time, Martin Luther King Jr. was studying theology at Boston University.)


Coretta earned her second collegiate degree, in voice and violin, from the New England Conservatory of Music in the early 1950s. Not long after, on June 18, 1953, Coretta and Martin married and moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he served as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and she, subsequently, oversaw the various tasks of a pastor's wife.



Civil Rights Activist

Working side-by-side with her husband throughout the 1950s and '60s, Coretta took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, journeyed to Ghana to mark that nation's independence in 1957, traveled to India on a pilgrimage in 1959 and worked to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, among other civil-rights-related work.

Though best known for working alongside her husband, Coretta established a distinguished career in activism in her own right. Among many roles, she worked as a public mediator and as a liaison to peace and justice organizations.

Death of MLK Jr.

On April 4, 1968, while standing on a balcony outside of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King Jr. was struck and killed by a sniper's bullet. The shooter, a malcontent drifter and former convict named James Earl Ray, was hunted for nearly two months before he was apprehended. King's assassination sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country.

Following her husband's assassination, Coretta continued their work. She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, based in Atlanta, Georgia, serving as the center's president and chief executive officer from its inception. In 1980, a 23-acre site around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace was designated for use by the King Center. The following year, a museum complex was dedicated on the site.

In 1995, Coretta passed the reins of the King Center over to her son, Dexter, but she remained in the public eye for several years thereafter, until her death in 2006. She wrote regular articles on social issues and published a syndicated column, and was also a regular commentator on CNN (beginning in 1980). In 1997, she called for a retrial for her husband's alleged assassin, James Earl Ray (Ray died in prison before the trial could be effected, on April 23, 1998).

Coretta was also behind the 15-year fight to have her husband's birthday instituted as a national holiday—President Ronald Reagan finally signed the bill in 1983, thusly creating "Martin Luther King Day." Additionally, she published a memoir, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1969.

Personal Life and Death

Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr. had four children together: Yolanda Denise (b. 1955), an actress; Martin Luther King III (b. 1957), who now serves as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Dexter Scott (b. 1961), who runs the King Library and Archive; and Bernice Albertine (b. 1963), a lawyer and Baptist minister.

Coretta Scott King suffered a heart attack and stroke in August 2005. She died less than a year later, on January 30, 2006, at the age of 78, in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico.

Today, King is remembered for her brave work on behalf of civil rights in the United States. Her life has been an inspiration to many over the past several years, and will continue to inspire for decades to come. She once said, "I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation."