Coretta Scott King, Fearless Champion of Equality
The woman-power of this nation can be the power which makes us whole and heals the rotten community, now so shattered by war and poverty and racism. I have great faith in the power of women who will dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to the task of remaking our society.
While you may be familiar with the works and words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., you may not realize his wife was an undaunted champion of equality in her own right–even before she married her famous husband.
In addition to her activism to promote the rights of African-Americans, Mrs. King was an activist for women’s equality, and was also an early and outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.
Born in 1927, her great-grandmother (a former slave) presided at her birth. She grew up in Alabama where she graduated valedictorian of her high school. A woman of great musical talent, she earned her admission to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. It was there she met her husband.
Like many women of her time, she set aside her own ambitions to support her husband. When Martin Luther King Jr. became a full-time pastor, Coretta became a full-time pastor’s wife.
How She’s Courageous
When fear rushed in, I learned how to hear my heart racing but refused to allow my feelings to sway me.
Sometimes, courage means standing up for one’s beliefs. Sometimes, courage means bravery in the face of death or injury. But throughout her life, Mrs. King epitomized both types of courage.
When she was only fifteen, her family home was burned to the ground by white racists. Once married, the King family received death threats due to their participation in the Montgomery bus boycott. Mrs. King was home with their baby when their house was bombed. Later, just after the bus service was integrated, she was present as shots rang through the house. Unfazed, she stood her ground and remained true to her cause.
In April 1968, only four days after her husband was assassinated, she went on to lead the planned march in his stead. From there, she spoke in his place at a peace rally in New York City. Eventually, she took over the leadership duties of the movement altogether–all while her husband’s killer remained at large.
She went on to become a vocal supporter for LGBT rights even when opposed by members of the church she so loved. She called for more funding and research into the AIDS epidemic and lobbied for an amendment to the Civil Rights Act to include members of the LGBT community.
How Her Courage Affects Others
Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.
There is a timeless and resounding truth to her words, and I count her as a champion of progressive causes throughout her life.
She worked by her husband’s side as he became leader of the Civil Rights Movement. After his death, she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. And, if last Monday was a holiday where you live, you can thank Coretta Scott King. After fifteen years of lobbying, she was successful in having his birthday recognized as a federal holiday in the United States.
This has been an edition of Women of Courage. Check back every Sunday through February for new articles celebrating real and fictional heroines to inspire you.