Across the South from Birmingham to Memphis to San Antonio, people spent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day marching in remembrance and spending their day off improving their communities through a day of service inspired by the civil rights leader’s work. However, Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. King, suggested taking a moment during the holiday to recognize and celebrate the work of her mother, Coretta Scott King.
This isn’t just about a Southern woman respecting her mother, but about recognizing the contributions of a woman who is often overlooked for her own hard work fighting for civil rights. In a tweet, Bernice King wrote, “As you honor my father today, please remember and honor my mother, as well. She was the architect of the King Legacy and founder of @TheKingCenter, which she founded two months after Daddy died. Without #CorettaScottKing, there would be no #MLKDay.”
Coretta Scott was born and raised in Marion, Alabama. She was her high school’s valedictorian, studied music at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and then went on to study concert singing at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. It was in Boston that she met Martin Luther King, Jr. They married on June 18, 1953, and moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to lead the congregation at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
While she was busy raising their four children, Mrs. King also spent time fighting alongside her husband, organizing a series of Freedom Concerts and helping to spread the word of nonviolence around the South. She also traveled the world sharing their message of peace, nonviolence, equality, and inclusiveness with her husband, including traveling o Oslo, Norway in 1964, where Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize.
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After her husband’s assassination in 1968, Mrs. King helped found the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta as a memorial to her husband’s life and work. In her role as President, Chair, and Chief Executive Officer of the King Center, she made her husband’s dream her own dream. She helped put together an archive of the Civil Rights Movement and helped spread her husband’s message of peace and love across the South, the country, and the world through training programs, lectures, nonviolent protests, and meetings with heads of state, including Pope John Paul, the Dalai Lama, and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Mrs. King also worked tirelessly to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday, which finally happened in 1983, thanks to an act of Congress, proving that there’s no stopping a strong Southern woman on a mission. Thanks to her hard work, millions of people around the world and in over 100 countries spend one Monday each January recognizing Dr. King’s life, legacy, and work. As Berenice King suggests, Mrs. King deserves recognition for that.