01/31/2006

Coretta Scott King Remembered for Continuing Husband's Work

Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who dedicated her life to continuing his work, has died. She was 78.

"We appreciate the prayers and condolences from people across the country," the King family said in a written statement. The statement said she died overnight.

On Tuesday, Southern Poverty Law Center leaders remembered King for working tirelessly after her husband's death to make his dream a reality.

"She was in a difficult position, being the widow of a great American hero, a role that carries high expectations," said Center founder Morris Dees.

"But she did a credible job of continuing Dr. King's dream, especially in the face of a changing and often hostile American public."

"She was her husband's partner in life and shared his commitment; after his death, she ceaselessly promoted his advocacy of nonviolence and protected his legacy," said Julian Bond, a Center board member and chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

After her husband's death on April 4, 1968, King devoted much of her life to maintaining his mission of nonviolent protest. Just days after King's death, Scott led a march on behalf of Memphis sanitation workers, the same workers King was in the city to support when he was assassinated. Weeks later, she helped launch the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, inspired by her late husband's words, "What good does it do to sit at the counter when you cannot afford a hamburger?"

In 1969, King founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The center is devoted to voting rights and combating hunger, unemployment and racism, the issues that she felt lead to violence.

King maintained a public presence in the years following her husband's death. In 1983, on the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington, she led an effort to bring more than 500,000 demonstrators to the city.

That same year, King watched as President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law declaring her husband's birthday a national holiday. It was something she worked more than a decade for to make happen.

During the 1980s, King worked against apartheid in South Africa, encouraging Reagan to approve sanctions against the country. In recent years she spoke against homophobia, likening the movement for gay and lesbian rights to the Civil Rights Movement before it.

Born in Marion, Ala., on April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott attended Antioch College in Ohio where she received her B.A. in music and elementary education. While in Ohio, she joined the Antioch chapters of the NAACP and the Young Progressives, attending the Progressive Party convention in 1948 as a student delegate.

In 1951, Scott enrolled at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, where she earned a Bachelor of Music in voice. It was in Boston that a friend introduced her to King, a Baptist minister working toward a Ph.D. at Boston University. They were married in 1953.

Throughout their 13-year marriage, King worked hard on behalf of civil rights. In addition to raising four children, she utilized her musical training to participate in the "freedom concerts." The concert proceeds were donated to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In addition to appearing by her husband's side during many of the major civil rights of the 1950s and 1960s, Scott performed at many of his speaking engagements and filled in for him if he was unable to meet a commitment.

Scott is survived by four children, Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott and Bernice Albertine.