The First Lady of Civil Rights

Martin and Coretta King Coretta Scott King, known as the "First Lady of Human and Civil Rights," passed away at the age of 78 on the evening of January 30, 2006, after suffering a serious stroke and heart attack in August, 2005.

Born April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott and her two siblings were raised by their hard-working parents on a farm in Heiberger, Alabama. Her father, Obediah, was the first black person in the area to own a truck, and he eventually owned a small country store.

Coretta excelled in school and pursued graduate studies in music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. During her time in Boston, she met her future husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was studying theology at Boston University. On their first date, Coretta recalled what King told her, "You know, you have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday." Eighteen months later — June 18, 1953 — they were married at her parents' home in Marion, Ala.

Coretta Scott KingMrs. King was a supportive wife and driving force behind her husband and the entire American civil rights movement. After her husband's assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Coretta carried on Martin's unfinished mission by working for peace, equality and economic justice in the United States and around the world. She devoted significant effort to establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta (founded in 1969) and used it to confront hunger, unemployment, voting rights, racism and "the evils of our society." She also worked for more than a decade to have Dr. King's birthday, January 15, recognized as a federal holiday (established in 1986).

Although much of her life was spent supporting and continuing the work of her husband, Mrs. King left her own indelible mark on society as a true advocate in the fight for justice and equality. It was said that "she was really the living epitome of Dr. King's message of love and forgiveness." She carried herself with dignity, protected her four children and worked tirelessly for peace and racial justice.

Her life was, in many ways, a self-fulfilling prophecy of her statement that, "Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today, but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."

Article copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Jimmy Gill was an intern from the Focus on the Family Institute
working in the Pastoral Ministries department
at the time he wrote this article.