449 Auburn Avenue, NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
AS THE FOUNDER OF THE KING CENTER, ARCHITECT OF DR. KING’S LEGACY, AND LIFELONG HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FOR SOCIAL CHANGE AND PEACE, CORETTA SCOTT KING WAS AMONG THE MOST PROMINENT WOMEN LEADERS OF OUR TIME.
Prepared by her family, education, and personality for a life committed to social justice and peace, she entered the world stage in 1955 as wife of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and as a leading participant in the American Civil Rights Movement.
A PARTNER IN SOCIAL CHANGE
Coretta Scott King’s remarkable partnership with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resulted not only in four children who became dedicated to carrying forward their parents’ work, but also in a life devoted to the highest values of human dignity in service to social change.
Coretta Scott met Martin Luther King, Jr. in Boston, Massachusetts where they were both attending university; she at the New England Conservatory, and he at Boston University. They were married on June 18, 1953 and in September 1954 settled in Montgomery, Alabama where Dr. King had been appointed pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
From the onset of Dr. King’s leadership, Mrs. King devoted much of her time to raising their four children: Yolanda Denise (1955), Martin Luther, III (1957), Dexter Scott (1961), and Bernice Albertine (1963). She balanced motherhood and movement work. The King family home would often serve as the center of activity for church and movement work. Mrs. King often participated in strategy meetings and provided feedback and encouragement to Dr. King as he prepared for his sermons and speeches.
Concerned about freedom and justice around the world, in 1957 they journeyed to Ghana, West Africa to mark that country’s independence, also visiting Nigeria, France, Italy, and the Vatican that same year.
In 1958, they spent a belated honeymoon in Mexico where they observed first-hand the immense gulf between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
In 1959, Mrs. King spent nearly a month in India with Dr. King on a pilgrimage to visit followers and sites associated with Mahatma Gandhi. In 1964 she traveled to Oslo, Norway to be with her husband as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
A RENAISSANCE WOMAN
Coretta Scott was born on April 27, 1927 in Heiberger, Alabama to Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurry Scott. Coretta Scott graduated valedictorian from Lincoln Normal High School and entered Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1945. She received a B.A. in music and education from Antioch. She also attended Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music where she earned a Bachelor of Music in Music Education.
Mrs. King’s musical background informed her work as an advocate for justice and peace.
During the mid–late fifties, Mrs. King performed concerts and recitals throughout the South. She also conceived and organized a series of Freedom Concerts as fundraising efforts to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) throughout the 1960s. These critically acclaimed concerts combined poetry, narration, and music to tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement.
Mrs. King’s childhood and education created a pathway for her to advocate for greater social change. During her lifetime, Mrs. King dialogued with heads of state, including prime ministers and presidents. She also participated in protests alongside working people of all races. She traveled throughout the United States and the world speaking out on behalf of racial and economic justice, women’s and children’s rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, gun control, the needs of the poor and homeless, full-employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament, and environmental justice.
THE COALITION OF CONSCIENCE
In 1974, Mrs. King formed a broad coalition of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil, and womens’ rights organizations dedicated to a national policy of full employment and equal economic opportunity. She served as Co-Chair of both the National Committee for Full Employment and the Full Employment Action Council.
In 1983, she brought together more than 800 human rights organizations to form the Coalition of Conscience, sponsors of the 20th Anniversary March on Washington. During this march, the primary legislative focus was the passage of The King Holiday.
In 1987, after Rev. Hosea Williams and a group of marchers were attacked by White Klansmen and racists while leading a march through the all-White Forsyth County, Georgia, Mrs. King helped lead and organize a National Mobilization Against Fear and Intimidation in Forsyth County. With the involvement of The King Center, a multi-racial commission started working together to create a more open and inclusive community. These efforts led to a more racially diverse Forsyth County.
In 1988, she re-convened the Coalition of Conscience for the 25th anniversary of the March on Washington. In preparation for the Reagan-Gorbachev talks, in 1988 she served as head of the U.S. delegation of Women for a Meaningful Summit in Athens, Greece. In 1990, as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was redefining itself, Mrs. King was co-convener of the Soviet-American Women’s Summit in Washington, DC.
A VOICE FOR PEACE
Coretta Scott King spoke at many of history’s massive peace and justice rallies. She served as a Women’s Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 1962. She was the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard in 1968, and the first woman to preach in a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1969. Even prior to her husband’s public stand against the Vietnam War in 1967, Mrs. King functioned as a liaison to peace and justice organizations.
Mrs. King tirelessly carried the message of nonviolence and the dream of the Beloved Community to almost every corner of our nation and globe. She led goodwill missions to many countries in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. She lent her support to pro-democracy movements worldwide and communicated with many world leaders, including Corazon Aquino, president of the Philippines from 1986–1992; Kenneth Kaunda, first president of Zambia from 1924–2021; and Nelson Mandela.
She also met with many great spiritual leaders, including Pope John Paul, the Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. She witnessed the historic handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yassir Arafat at the signing of the Middle East Peace Accords.
She was a strong advocate and spokesperson for the movement to abolish apartheid in South Africa. Along with her daughter Bernice and son Martin III, Mrs. King was arrested for demonstrating in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. After the fall of apartheid and with the support of and funding from the United States State Department, under Mrs. King’s leadership The King Center trained 300,000 new South African voters on the principles of nonviolence in preparation for the country’s first multiracial election.
She then stood with president-elect Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president. A woman of wisdom, compassion and vision, Coretta Scott King worked to make ours a better world and, in the process made history.
CORETTA SCOTT KING TIRELESSLY CARRIED THE MESSAGE OF NONVIOLENCE AND THE DREAM OF THE BELOVED COMMUNITY TO ALMOST EVERY CORNER OF OUR NATION AND GLOBE.
FOUNDER OF THE KING CENTER
Following Dr. King’s death on April 4, 1968, Mrs. King acted upon her vision to preserve the places, writings, speeches and sermons, as well as the works associated with Dr. King.
On June 26, 1968, Mrs. King founded The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center as a nonprofit to serve as the Official Living Memorial to the life, work and legacy of her husband. In 1978 the King Memorial Center changed its name to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. (commonly referred to today at The King Center), with the objective of providing programs and training in Dr. King’s philosophy and methodology of nonviolence. Under her leadership, The King Center was one of the first institutions after the assassination of Dr. King to host a nonviolence conference and annual summer institutes on nonviolence for adults and youth.
Mrs. King conceptualized the establishment of an official living memorial dedicated to advancing the work and legacy for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
” . . .THE MEMORIAL CENTER WILL, LIKE MARTIN LUTHER KING, EMERGE PROUDLY OUT OF THE HEART OF THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA, BUT IT WILL ADDRESS THE EXPERIENCES OF ALL PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO ARE BROKEN AND OPPRESSED, THOSE WHO DESPERATELY SEARCH FOR JUSTICE, LIBERATION AND PEACE.”
CORETTA SCOTT KING
FOUNDER’S STATEMENT, 1968
Mrs. King’s vision focused on the construction and development of The King Center campus, the acquisition and restoration of the King Birth Home, the promotion and preservation of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the rehabilitation and development of the 23-acre neighborhood. She was a pivotal force in the establishment of the King National Historic Site, which was re-designated in 2017 as the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park –the first named after an African American in the state of Georgia.
Mrs. King lobbied for the enactment of legislation designating The King Center’s Freedom Hall Complex (including the Chapel of all Faiths, the Eternal Flame, Freedom Walkway, Exhibition Hall, Archives Programs and Administration building, and the King Crypt within a reflecting pool ) Ebenezer Baptist Church and the larger historic Sweet Auburn community as a National Historic Site and Preservation District.
As early as 1967, Mrs. King’s initial vision encompassed preserving the papers of Dr. King which would become the Library Documentation Project. The Documentation Project consisted of the voluminous files and books of Dr. King and materials relevant to his life and work. This effort was later expanded to the King Library and Archives, which included the acquisition, promotion, and preservation of information relevant to organizations and individuals in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Due to Mrs. King’s vision and efforts, there exists today the compilation of the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. King, and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world, which provides important links to the accurate understanding of this period in history. These primary source records are housed in the King Library and Archives at The King Center where students, scholars, authors, journalists, and filmmakers throughout the world come to conduct research.
THE KING HOLIDAY
Beyond establishing The King Center as one of her greatest legacy contributions, Mrs. King spearheaded the massive educational and lobbying campaign to establish Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. The King Holiday is the only federal service holiday in the United States.
After the passage of the King Holiday, Mrs. King requested the establishment of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission which Congress enacted in 1983 to provide oversight and bring unity to the celebrations across the nation. She chaired the commission for its duration
In January 1986, Mrs. King oversaw the first legal holiday in honor of her husband – a holiday which is celebrated by millions of people in the United States and worldwide in over 100 countries.
Mrs. King carried the message of nonviolence and the dream of the Beloved Community. She lived her phenomenal life as a woman of wisdom, faith, determination, compassion, hope, and healing. Her vision for the beloved community and her commitment to nonviolence placed her at the forefront of leadership for peace, love and social change.
One of the most influential African-American leaders of her time, Mrs. King received honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities; authored two books, edited a compilation of selected quotes by Dr. King, maintained a nationally-syndicated newspaper column, and served on and helped found dozens of organizations, including the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable.
Mrs. King died on January 30, 2006. She was the first woman and the first African American to lay in honor in the rotunda of the Georgia capitol. Also, a few days after her death, thousands of people stood in line in the rain to pay their respects at a viewing in the heritage sanctuary of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
FOUR LIVING AMERICAN PRESIDENTS—GEORGE W. BUSH, BILL CLINTON, GEORGE H.W. BUSH, AND JIMMY CARTER—AND THEIR WIVES ATTENDED HER FUNERAL SERVICES. FUTURE PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA WAS ALSO IN ATTENDANCE.
Today, Mrs. King is interred alongside her husband in a memorial crypt located in the reflecting pool of The King Center’s Freedom Hall Complex. This site is visited year-round by nearly a million people from all over the world. The inscription on the crypt memorializing her life of service is I Corinthians 13:13.
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
A WOMAN OF WISDOM, COMPASSION AND VISION, CORETTA SCOTT KING TRIED TO MAKE OURS A BETTER WORLD AND BRING US CLOSER TO THE ULTIMATE GOAL, THE BELOVED COMMUNITY.