Coretta Scott King: Priceless face to the faceless, voice to the voiceless and Print E-mail

hope to the lost, last and least ones

The Hindu Sunday Magazine -- February 19, 2006

Matriarch of the civil rights: Coretta Scott King. Photo: AP

Visionary in her own right


Taking over from her husband, Coretta Scott King carried the flame of non-violence and social justice in the U.S. and across the globe.

CORETTA SCOTT KING, the matriarch and the first lady of the American civil rights movement, is now part of history. Wife of late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 78-year-old Mrs. King died on January 30 at the Santa Monica Holistic Health Institute in Rosarita Beach, Mexico.

In August 2005 she had suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack that left her partially paralysed and speech-impaired. In November she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer to which she succumbed.

A dreamer and visionary in her own right, Mrs. King was a match for her activist husband. Barely four days after her husband fell to assassin's bullets on April 4, 1968, the grief-stricken widow led the 50,000 people through the streets of Memphis in support of the sanitation workers' fight for justice.

Her powerful weapons

In the midst of premeditated and prolonged hate crimes against the Blacks and even at the height of her own loss, Mrs. King remained calm and sober and advised her followers not to resort to violence. Holding the powerful weapons of non-violence and peace she confronted her adversaries as a formidable champion of the would-be U.S.

In the 15 years of her life with Dr. King, she had always been in the forefront of the battle to heal the deep wounds of racism, segregation and injustice from the white-dominated U.S.

Married to Dr. King in 1953 Mrs. King remained his ardent admirer and, at the same time, a reliable and fierce critic. Since her husband's untimely demise, Mrs. King has been the torchbearer of his legacy. The philosophy of non-violence, which Dr. King credited to Mahatma Gandhi, was the ruling principle of her life too.

At the invitation of the then Prime Minister Jewaharlal Nehru, in 1959, the couple made a month-long visit to India. They used the occasion to learn more about the philosophy and techniques of Gandhi's method of non-violence. No doubt this visit deepened and strengthened their commitment to non-violence.

Influenced by Gandhi

Later when the King Center was built in 1981, Mrs. King took the initiative to include a Gandhi Room at the centre. Subash Razdan, Acting Chairman of the Gandhi Foundation, the U.S., wrote in a condolence message posted on its website, "Mrs. King was the motivator behind the dedication of the Gandhi room in 1983 and refurbishing the Gandhi Room by the Indian American Cultural Association (IACA) at the Freedom Hall at the King Center in 1987. She personally inspired frequent and elaborate celebrations of the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at the King Center and also at the historic Ebenezer Church on Auburn Ave. in Atlanta."

Only months after her husband's death in 1968, Mrs. King founded Martin Luther King Jr. Center for non-violent social change in the basement of her Vine City home, a suburb of Atlanta, to immortalise his life, legacy, vision and dream.

With Mrs. King at the helm, the centre offered local, national and international programmes in an attempt to train thousands of people in her husband's philosophy and methods for a better world order.

Voluntarily taking the "baton" from her deceased husband Mrs. King continued her husband's mission. Her relentless pursuit for a just society prevailed over the ugly, inhuman face of this nation — racism, segregation, injustice, bigotry, inequality and denial of human dignity pitted, especially, against the black minority.

As an author, speaker and newspaper columnist, Mrs. King carried the flame of non-violence and social justice to almost every corner of the U.S. and the globe. As a leader in her own right she met with heads of states and spiritual leaders as well. Her stature among the African-Americans was such that President Clinton invited her to witness the Middle East Peace Accord signing ceremony and the historic handshake between Rabin and Arafat.

Undisputed leader

Born on April 27, 1927 and raised in a village in Marion, Alabama, Coretta Scott grew up picking cotton on a white man's farm. Though by education and training she was a singer and musician, the destiny that awaited her was different — the undisputed leader of the Black Americans. At 26 she married Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the couple raised four children.

Yes, Mrs. King educated, transformed and beautified the ugly, inert heart and face of this richest and powerful nation on earth with the basics of human life, human rights, dignity and justice. The U.S. witnessed an irresistible tide of social change giving face to the faceless, voice to the voiceless and hope to the lost, last and least ones.