Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King, 1969 (Photo credit: Bernard Gotfryd, from the Bernard Gotfryd Photo Collection, Library of Congress; photo in the public domain)

In 1968, Coretta Scott King (1927–2006), an activist and the widow of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., established the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change (the King Center) in Atlanta, Georgia, as a living memorial dedicated to preserving the legacy of her husband and to continuing his work for nonviolent social change.

Born and raised in Marion, Alabama, Coretta graduated valedictorian of her high school class and earned degrees in music and education from Antioch College and in voice and violin from the New England Conservatory of Music. While studying in Boston, she met her future husband; they were married in 1953 and, after completing their degrees, moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. They raised four children.

During her time in Montgomery, Coretta joined her husband in civil rights activism, participating the Montgomery bus boycott (1955) and in efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964). After Martin's assassination in 1968, she continued to be active in the civil rights movement and also in the anti-Vietnam War movement. She supported labor strikes, women's rights, anti-racism, and economic justice, traveling the world as a lecturer. In Italy, in 1969, she became the first non-Italian person awarded the Universal Love Award.

Coretta told her story in My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (1969). Later, with her son Dexter, she compiled and edited The Martin Luther King, Jr., Companion: Quotations from the Speeches, Essays, and Books of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1998). Her memoir, My Life, My Love, My Legacy (2017), published posthumously, was based on interviews over a thirty-year period with journalist Barbara Reynolds. She also established two awards: In 1969, the Coretta Scott King Award, which honors an African-American author for an outstanding text for children and young adults, and, in 1979, a similar award for illustration. The annual awards are presented by the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable of the American Library Association.

Coretta died in 2006 from complications from ovarian cancer and was buried alongside Martin in Atlanta, Georgia.

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