An American legend

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, August 29, 2019

By Tonya S. Swindell

Mrs. Coretta Scott King was highly regarded as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a dedicated mother of his children. Her husband affectionately called her “Corrie.” Many Americans referred to her as “Mrs. King.” In her life story, “My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, Mrs. King also embraced being known as “Coretta,” a unique, multifaceted individual who championed the cause of freedom and fought for the ideals of a beloved community.

Coretta’s gentle but powerful voice for change developed from the time she was born in Heiberger, Ala., on April 27, 1927. She was raised by loving parents: Obadiah and Bernice Scott, along with her younger brother, Obie Leonard, and older sister, Edythe. Poverty, socioeconomic inequities and racially motivated slights such as being made to attend school in substandard buildings with out-of-date textbooks, and witnessing how arsonists destroyed her family’s homes and businesses, influenced Coretta’s understanding of troubling societal issues.

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For high school, Coretta and her sister attended Lincoln Normal School, which was founded by former slaves. As valedictorians, they received scholarships to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Coretta earned early acceptance to the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studied to become a professional opera singer.

Through a matchmaker, Mary Powell, Coretta met Martin Luther King Jr. who was completing his doctoral degree at Boston University’s School of Theology. After one year and four months of courtship, they married on June 18, 1953, and eventually had 4 children: Yolanda or “Yoki”; Martin III; Dexter; and Bernice or “Bunny.”

After Dr. King’s death on April 4, 1968, Coretta fought to establish his birthday as a national holiday. She also founded the King Center, “the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world.”

Coretta’s social activism spread internationally as she performed operatic concerts, taught Kingian principles of non-violence and advocated for numerous human rights causes, including fair labor practices, gay rights and the ending of apartheid. Among other honors, she was appointed public delegate of the Thirty-Second General Assembly of the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter.

Coretta’s role models were former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mary McLeod Bethune, the daughter of slaves who founded a private school for blacks in Daytona Beach, Fla. Her dearest friendships included Betty Shabazz, wife of American Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X; Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of American civil rights activist, Medgar Evers; Andrew Young, former mayor, congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; American poet Maya Angelou, media mogul Oprah Winfrey; Corazon Aquino, the first female president in Asia; and Indira Gandhi, the first female prime minister of India.

Coretta Scott King’s achievements were a testament of her faith and strength as an individual. Until her death in 2006, Mrs. King influenced world leaders, preserved her husband’s legacy, and brought attention to the plight of marginalized citizens. She remains an American legend.

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for and is a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School ( She can be reached at