Though uneducated themselves, King's parents intended for all of their children to be educated. King quoted her mother as having said, "My children are going to college, even if it means I only have but one dress to put on." The Scott children attended a one room elementary school five miles (8 km) from their home and were later bussed to a high school in Marion, Alabama, nine miles (14 km) from their home. The bus was driven by Bernice Scott, who bussed all the local black teenagers to the Marion high school, as it was the closest black high school.
King graduated valedictorian of Lincoln High School in 1945 and enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Edythe Scott already attended Antioch as part of the Antioch Program for Interracial Education, which recruited non-white students and gave them full scholarships in an attempt to diversify the historically white campus. King said of her first college:
Antioch had envisioned itself as a laboratory in democracy, but had no black students. (Edythe) became the first African American to attend Antioch on a completely integrated basis, and was joined by two other black female students in the fall of 1943. Pioneering is never easy, and all of us who followed my sister at Antioch owe her a great debt of gratitude.
She studied music with Walter Anderson, the first non-white chair of an academic department in a historically white college. King also became politically active, due largely to her experience of racial discrimination by the local school board.She became active in the Nascent civil rights movement; she joined the Antioch NAACP and the college's Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees. The board denied her request to perform her second year of required practice teaching at Yellow Springs public schools, for her teaching certificate King appealed to the Antioch College administration, which was unwilling or unable to change the situation in the local school system and instead employed her at the college's associated laboratory school for a second year.
King transferred out of Antioch when she won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she met Martin Luther King, Jr. In her early life King was as well known as a singer as she was as a civil rights activist, and often incorporated music into her civil rights work. In 1964, the Time profile of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was chosen as Time's "Man of the Year", referred to her as "a talented young soprano.
Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr., were married on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her mothers' house; the ceremony was performed by King's father. After completing her degree in voice and violin at the New England Conservatory, she moved with her husband to Montgomery, Alabama in September 1954.
The Kings had four children:
All four children later followed in their parents' footsteps as civil rights activists.
Coretta Scott King played an extremely important role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin wrote of her that, "I am indebted to my wife Coretta, without whose love, sacrifices, and loyalty neither life nor work would bring fulfillment. She has given me words of consolation when I needed them and a well-ordered home where Christian love is a reality." However, Martin and Coretta did conflict over her public role in the movement. Martin wanted Coretta to focus on raising their four children, while Coretta wanted to take a more public leadership role.
Not long after her husband's death, Coretta approached the African-American entertainer and activist Josephine Baker to take her husband's place as leader of The Civil Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over Baker declined, stating that her twelve adopted children (known as the "rainbow tribe") were " ... too young to lose their mother."
Coretta Scott King decided to take the helm of the movement herself after her husband's assassination in 1968, although she broadened her focus to include women's rights, GLBT rights, economic issues, world peace, and various other leftist causes. As early as December 1968, she called for women to "unite and form a solid block of women power to fight the three great evils of racism, poverty and war," during a Solidarity Day speech.
Coretta Scott King was also under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1968 until 1972. Her husband's activities had been monitored during his lifetime. Documents obtained by a Houston, Texas television station show that the FBI worried that King would "tie the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement." A spokesman for the King family said that they were aware of the surveillance, but had not realized how extensive it was.
After her husband was assassinated on April 4, 1968, she began attending a commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to mark her husband's birth every January 15 and fought for years to make it a national holiday. Murray M. Silver, Esq., Atlanta Attorney, made the Appeal at the Services on 1/14/1979. Coretta Scott King later confirmed that it was the "...best, most productive appeal ever..." King was finally successful in this in 1986, when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was made a federal holiday.
Coretta Scott King attended the state funeral of Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1973, as a very close friend of the former president, himself a contributor to civil rights. She was also present when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing Martin Luther King Day.
In 1986, she traveled to South Africa and met with Winnie Mandela, while Mandela's husband Nelson Mandela was still a political prisoner on Robben Island. She declined invitations from Pik Botha and moderate Zulu chief Buthelezi. Upon her return to the United States, she urged Reagan to approve economic sanctions against South Africa.
King called her adoption of a vegan diet in 1995 a blessing. Her son, Dexter, had been vegan since 1988, saying that an appreciation for animal rights is the "logical extension" of his father's philosophy of non-violence.
King was vocal in her opposition to capital punishment and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, thus drawing criticism from conservative groups. She was also an advocate of feminism, LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.
On April 1, 1998 at The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, King called on the civil rights community to join in the struggle against homophobia and anti-gay bias. "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood", King stated. "This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group."
In a speech in November 2003 at the opening session of the 13th annual Creating Change Conference, organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, King made her now famous appeal linking the Civil Rights Movement to the LGBT agenda: "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. ... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."
King's support of LGBT rights was strongly criticized by some black pastors. She called her critics "misinformed" and said that Martin Luther King's message to the world was one of equality and inclusion.
In 2003, she invited the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to take part in observances of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. It was the first time that an LGBT rights group had been invited to a major event of the African American community.
On March 23, 2004, she told an audience at Richard Stockton University in Pomona, N.J, that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. King denounced a proposed amendment advanced by President George W. Bush to the United States Constitution that would ban equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. In her speech King also criticized a group of black pastors in her home state of Georgia for backing a bill to amend that state's constitution to block gay and lesbian couples from marrying. King is quoted as saying "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriage."
By the end of her 77th year, King began experiencing health problems. Hospitalized in April 2005, she was diagnosed with a heart condition and was discharged on her 78th and final birthday. Later, King suffered several small strokes. On August 16 2005, she was hospitalized after suffering a stroke and a mild heart attack. Initially, she was unable to speak or move her right side. She was released from Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta on September 22, 2005, after regaining some of her speech and continued physiotherapy at home. Due to continuing health problems, King cancelled a number of speaking and traveling engagements throughout the remainder of 2005. On January 14 2006, King made her last public appearance in Atlanta at a dinner honoring her husband memory.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was 39 when he was assassinated in 1968. Mrs. King lived to be twice his age. Her mother Bernice lived to the age of 91, dying in 1996. Obie Scott, Coretta King's father, was 99 at his death in 1998; her sister Edythe is currently 83 years of age. Her brother Obie is currently 78 and in better health than she was at the same age. Factors related to stress, along with her cancer probably contributed to her death at 78.
The current and most living former U.S. Presidents and their wives attended, excepting the Ford family, which was absent due to illness, and Barbara Bush, who had a previous engagement. Numerous other political and prominent civil rights leaders attended the televised service.
King was interred in a temporary mausoleum on the grounds of the King Center until a permanent place next to her husband's remains could be built. She had expressed to family members and others that she wanted her remains to lie next to her husband's at the King Center. On November 20, 2006 the new mausoleum containing both the bodies of Dr. and Mrs King was unveiled in front of friends and family. It is the third resting place of Martin Luther King. Coretta Scott King died on son Dexter's birthday.
King was the recipient of various honors and tributes both before and after her death. She received honorary degrees from many institutions, including Princeton University, Duke University, and Bates College. She was honored by both of her alma maters in 2004, receiving a Horace Mann Award from Antioch College and an Outstanding Alumni Award from the New England Conservatory of Music.
Many individuals and organizations paid tribute to King following her death, including U.S. President George W. Bush, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Black Justice Coalition, her alma mater Antioch College.
King's body was returned to Atlanta and carried through the streets on a horse-drawn carriage to the Georgia State Capitol as the crowd threw roses at the casket and a lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace"; King became the first woman and black person to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol King's body also lay at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where her husband had been pastor. By presidential proclamation, flags were flown half staff on February 7, 2006, the day of King's interment.
As of April 2006, a proposal before the Atlanta City Council would rename Atlanta's Simpson Street/Road after King . The road bisects the Vine City neighborhood, a long time residence of Coretta Scott King and, earlier, the King family.
On January 31, 2006 following a moment of silence in memoriam to the death of King, the United States House of Representatives presented House Resolution 655 in honor of King's legacy. In an unusual action, the resolution included a grace period of five days in which further comments could be added to it.
Mrs. King was not without her detractors, particular concerning the King family's handling of her husband's estate. The licensing of Martin Luther King's speeches has caused concern about the reasoning behind limiting their availability.
MONTGOMERY 1ST STOP FOR CORETTA SCOTT KING BIOGRAPHY TOUR, RELEASE OF UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS' BOOK NEARS
Apr 28, 2012; TUSCALOOSA, Ala., April 25 -- The University of Alabama issued the following news release: Bernice A. King will tour the state of...