Coretta Scott King, 78, Dies in Sleep

By Pamela bond

North Texas Daily

Feb. 1, 2006

CLICK HERE to see a PDF of the newspaper page this story was printed on

CLICK HERE to see a PDF of the newspaper page this story was printed on continued

During his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated himself to the fight for justice and equality for all. After his death, he left behind a legacy in the civil rights movement, which Coretta Scott King spent the rest of her life trying to uphold.

Now, she has left behind a similar legacy. King, an honorary graduate of NT, died in her sleep yesterday at the age of 78.

Her dignified and persistent struggle for civil rights after the death of her husband earned King the unofficial title of “the first lady of the civil rights movement.”

Last August, King suffered a serious stroke and heart attack which kept her out of the public’s eye. Her last public appearance was in celebration of her husband’s birthday, two weeks ago in Atlanta, Ga.

King was born in Perry County, Ala., on April 27, 1927. As a girl, she picked cotton to help her family during the Depression and later attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she worked as a waitress to pay for school.

King met her husband while practicing vocal studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. Martin was studying to be a Baptist minister at Boston University.

King told the Associated Press that on their first date, he told her, “You know, you have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday.” They were pronounced man and wife a year and a half later.

After moving to Montgomery, Ala., Martin became the minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and in 1955 led a bus boycott. The boycott became famous for Martin’s nonviolent approach to social change, and for the late Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat.

Throughout his endeavors for the civil rights cause, King stood by her husband. When Martin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, she was at his side. When he marched from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery to gain support for voting rights in 1965, King marched too.

After Martin died on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., King dedicated her life to her husband’s cause.

“I’m more determined than ever that my husband’s dream will become a reality,” said King (Associated Press – Atlanta).

In 1986, King successfully lobbied for her husband’s death to be recognized as a national holiday, and in 1969 she opened the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta to combat the issues of hunger, unemployment, voting rights and racism.

“After Dr. King died, she found her own voice and perpetuated the method of using nonviolence for social change,” said J. Todd Moye, assistant professor of history and former director of the Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project for the National Park Service. “The national recognition for her husband’s holiday and the institution of the King Center established her in her own right. She will always be remembered for the playing the role of Dr. King’s widow with dignity, but she really found her own voice too.”

While Martin continues to be known for his role in the civil rights movement, King has also spoken out about her husband’s convictions to nonviolence.

“She kept reminding America that Dr. King opposed military involvement,” Moye said. “A lot of people remember him for his dream of black and white children playing together, but he also opposed Vietnam. She has very forcefully spoken against Iraq, knowing that her husband would not agree with the war.”

Last February, King spoke at NT’s eight annual Equity and Diversity conference. Her speech emphasized the importance of education, nonviolence and voting.

“Educate your mind, but also educate your heart,” King said, according to a March 1 article of the NT Daily. “Do excellent not only in your school work, but also in your personal integrity.”

At the end of her speech, the department of equity and diversity presented King with an honorary doctorate degree in Humane Affairs to recognize her contributions to civil rights.

“I am deeply honored and humbled by this recognition,” King said, according to a March 1 article of the NT Daily. “I hope that I can continue to make myself worthy … as an honorary member to the University of Northern Texas.”

Despite her accomplishments, King’s life also had its share of controversy. In January, the book “At Canaan’s Edge” by Taylor Branch once again presented Martin’s confessed infidelity while King was recovering from a hysterectomy.

On Thursday, King was visiting family in California when she was taken to the Santa Monica Health Institute in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where she eventually died. She was battling advanced ovarian cancer and doctors at the institute cited respiratory failure as the official cause of death.

King is survived by her four children. Martin III is president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was co-founded by his father. He and his brother Dexter now run the King Center. Bernice is a Baptist minister and Yolanda, an actress, will be speaking at NT’s ninth annual Equity and Diversity conference February 22-24.

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