Coretta Scott King Knew, Do You?

How does it feel to always have to be strong? To be forced into a role as the calm in the midst of a raging maelstrom? Coretta Scott King knew. How do you share your husband with an entire people at a time when your life and the lives of your children are at risk? Coretta Scott King knew. How do you carry on a legacy alone and carry the face of fortitude while losing your life partner, raising a family, and maintaining the will to carry on a fractured dream? Coretta Scott King knew.

So soon after celebrating Dr. King's legacy we are sadly forced to say good-bye to the backbone of that same legacy, at a time when that legacy is best on all sides by both his children, and our people as a whole. Mrs. King has had health issues including both a stroke and a heart attack in the last year, but her image remains resolute as a soldier, forging ahead in a battle she may not have begun, but that she carried on dutifully in the 40-plus years since her husband’s death. 

Collectively we shared her tragedy, but she would not allow us to se her pain. She grieved inside so that we would not see a beaten and broken woman. But we witnessed the emergence of a leader in her own right, taking her place among the Betty Shabazzes, setting the stage for the Winnie Mandelas, and other strong women that would not be conquered by loss and adversity. She represented a beacon of hope for our people symbolizing not the end of the struggle, but its continuance. A tireless fundraiser. A willing participant in the March, she never ran from her charge. She embraced it.

Mrs. King oversaw the transition of her husband’s work from a man to a symbol with much more range and outreach than he had in his life, while combating forces attempting to co-opt that “dream” into a catchphrase suitable for their own intent and purpose. She lobbied for over 10 years to have her husband honored in that respect and President Reagan finally capitulated her wish in 1983, when he signed the federal holiday into law. She gave so much yet always maintained the charge of her largest duty-her children. She allowed them to grow up insulated from the crushing weight of the loss of their father and the intimidating task of making something from their lives that would honor his memory without forcing them to follow in his footsteps. She allowed them the leeway to create their own path when the pull to continue down a path already tread would have been so easily understood, but impossible to duplicate.

Her crowning achievement, besides the growth and development of her family was the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in 1969. Unfortunately, the facility is currently being considered for sale to the National Park Service. The pending sale of the grounds has become a source of disharmony among the children, with two “for” and two “against” the sale. However, none of that is a mark on the work ethic, the persistence, the fortitude and dedication of Coretta Scott King. One of the saddest things about growing older, is that we, as a people, lose the giants whose shoulders we stand on. Hopefully the vision she allowed us to see is etched in our minds and we can stand higher in her memory to see further. Mrs. King leaves behind four children, countless memories, and her own legacy. She will be sorely missed.