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Friday, January 18, 2008

Behind every great man

There is a woman.




Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I am sure we all know that. As well, I am sure we all know he had an exceptional wife.

Coretta Scott was born in 1927, in Heiberger, Alabama. (near Marion). She was raised on a farm there that had belonged to her family since the civil war. During the depression, she, and her brother and sister picked cotton to help earn money for the family. She walked five miles a day to attend school in a one room school house, and, eventually, when she was ready for highschool, her mother, Bernice, hired a bus, and drove all the black students nine miles to Marion so they could go to school. While in highschool, she learned to play the trumpet, and piano, and was often the soloist singing at school recitals. She graduated at the top of her class, and continued onto college, in Ohio, where her sister was already attending.(her sister was the first black student to live on campus, actually.)
In college, she chose a music and education major. She was a very active student, and also took part in the work-study program, was a camp counsellor, library assistant, AND a nursery school attendant. The color of her skin did not stop her from doing any of these things, until she tried to student teach. The local schools had no black teachers, and would not accept her. She ended up doing her teaching in a "demonstration school".
Also at college, she took up another instrument, the violin, and continued singing and playing the piano. When she graduated, she decided she would become a professional singer, rather than a school teacher, and had been accepted by the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston, with a scholarship. The scholarship only covered her tuition, however, and to pay for her bed and breakfast, she resorted to cleaning the stairwells of the house she lived in. Her dinner was usually peanut butter, and crackers. Her second year in Boston, the state of Alabama gave her some state aid, but she still had to watch every penny.
It was while she was studying at the conservatory that she met Martin. He was a student in the Boston area, as well. They married in 1953. After she graduated from the conservatory, they went back to Alabama (Montgomery), and Martin began to work as a minister.
Being that her husband was devoted to civil rights, she knew her life would be far from quiet. They had their first child 2 weeks before the the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. Less than a year into that boycott, their house was bombed. They went on to have three more children, and in total had 2 boys, and 2 girls.
During the next few years, Coretta became a partner in the full sense of the word in her husbands work. She was beside him during the marches, went with him when he traveled to speak, and gave speeches herself when he was unable to do so. She was a part of the WOman's Strike for Peace, she was a delegate at the Disarmament Conference, in Switzerland, and, still keeping up with her music, she gave frequent concerts to benefit the the civil rights movement.
In 1968, her husband was assassinated. Just four days after he died, she led a march of 50,000 people through the streets of Memphis, Tn. Later that year, she took his place in the Poor People's March to Washington. She would carry on his work.
She found her way to many places in the following years. India, where she accepted an award that had been granted to her husband, Italy, where she had a special audience with the Pope. She preached at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and started some plans to open the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, in Atlanta, Georgia. The center is now so large, thanks to her fund-raising, that it covers 3 full blocks, and has a library and archive of the Civil rights movement located inside.
The man who was convicted of killing her husband died in prison, still protesting his innocence until the end. Coretta was convinced that he did not act alone, and with her son, appealed to President Clinton and Janet Reno for an investigation of his assassination. She brought with her evidence of a conspiracy to kill her husband that she had amassed for years. The decision remained that James Earl Ray had acted alone, and had killed Martin. Not satisfied, the King family filed a wrongful death suit against a restaurant owner who said he was paid to plan the killing. In December of 1999, a Tennessee jury found that the assassination WAS the result of a conspiracy, and had NOT been accomplished by a single killer.
Coretta continued on, speaking and traveling, and spreading the word of civil rights her entire life. In August of 2005, she suffered a stroke, and a mild heart attack, and she passed away January 30th, 2006, at 78 years old.
On Monday, I will be sure to remember MLK, and the good works that he did. But I will also be remembering his wife. Who was right beside him.

3 comments:

holly said...

excellent excellent stuff. i love this series of your posts. well, no i love your whole blog but i particularly love these. :)

MM said...

very cool

sybil law said...

Hell yes!