Custom Search 1
Diahanne Rhiney's picture
Diahanne Rhiney
A shared dream

THIS WEEK Monday (Jan 18) was Martin Luther King Jr Day, the federal holiday in the US that celebrates the birthday and legacy of the iconic civil rights campaigner.

Thankfully, people all over the world and of all ages and races are aware of Dr King's vast contribution and his legacy lives on in the work of all those who apply his thinking to modern causes.

This year, I'd like to honour his legacy in a different way. I'd like to pay tribute to his helpmate without whom many of his achievements may have been very different: his wife.

When Coretta Scott King met her husband-to-be, she was a fiercely intelligent and incredibly driven young lady. She was the proud daughter of a formidable woman whom she described as "very strong, a feminist for her time. She did things that men did, and later drove a school bus".

She had earned a scholarship to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. As an undergraduate, she joined the Antioch chapter of the NAACP, and the college's Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees. She had graduated with a BA in music and education and won a scholarship to study concert singing at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

Like many wives, Coretta was often forced to prove her merit and assure people that she and Martin shared the same vision (she was after all, already working for the NAACP and it is said that by the time they met, they had "heard of each other") and she was often quoted as saying "I didn't learn my commitment from Martin Luther King Jr, we just converged at the same time".

Coretta proved the depth of her commitment in the decades after his death when she emerged as one of the most influential women leaders in our world.

Coretta worked tirelessly at her husband's side throughout the 1950s and 1960s, taking part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and working to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

During their life together, she was his ally, steadfastly raising their four children whilst tirelessly supporting, inspiring and encouraging his efforts to promote peaceful social change in race relations.

Coretta was Martin's confidante without whom he may never have changed the world in such an enormous way. Whilst we look upon him as a fearless superman, it was Coretta he confided his fears to. On nights he admitted that he was nervous about his responsibilities she would reply, "You know whatever you do, you have my backing".

This undying support galvanised him. In June of 1963 it was Coretta who told Martin that she thought it was the time for a March in Washington saying, "I believe a hundred thousand people will come to the nation's capital at your invitation". Sure enough, just two months later, thousands of Americans headed to Washington and her husband stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his iconic I Have a Dream speech.

"You have everything I have ever wanted in a wife. There are only four things, and you have them all.' - Martin Luther King Jr

When Martin returned from meetings, he would sit up and give her accounts of his sermons, speeches and ideas, seeking her opinion which he valued above all others. When he was arrested for violating segregation ordinances, it was Coretta that he phoned. She quickly set about organising his bail.

Throughout his global travels she was his companion, travelling to Ghana with him in 1957 to mark the country's independence from Great Britain. In 1962, they traveled to Switzerland to serve as delegates to Women Strike for Peace. She was at her husbands side when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Coretta is a perfect example of how it is possible to turn adversity into success; she was devastated by the murder of her husband and yet she persevered and channeled her grief, concentrating her energies on building The Martin Luther King Jr Center for Non-violent Social Change as a living memorial to her and Martin's shared dream.

In 1974, she formed the Full Employment Action Council. She continued to serve the cause of justice and human rights all of her days, continuing to travel the world on goodwill missions to Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. In 1983, she marked the 20th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, by leading a gathering of more than 800 human rights organisations, the Coalition of Conscience, in the largest demonstration the capital city had ever seen.

She remained active in the arena of racial and economic justice, and in her final years she devoted her energy to AIDS and gun violence. She was a relentless advocate for women's rights and often spoke about the power women have to create change.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mrs King before her death and I can honestly say she was one of the most graceful, intelligent and remarkable women I have ever met.

As women, there is so much we can learn from her. She is a fine testimony to Martin Luther King Jr. She is also a wonderful testimony to what we are all capable of once we set our minds to it, despite the many challenges, obstacles, hardships and losses we may face.

"I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength and calmness of Coretta, I could not have stood up amid the ordeals and tensions surrounding the Montgomery movement," - Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Notably, Coretta is the reason we have Martin Luther King Jr Day. It took her almost twenty years to bring this important holiday to fruition. As always, she never gave up fighting with and for her husband.

Poignantly, and ever her husbands greatest supporter, Coretta made her last public appearance at the Martin Luther King Jr Day Salute to Greatness dinner on January 14, 2006. She died of ovarian cancer shortly after.

Mr and Mrs King rest together in an enlarged crypt, located in the middle of the reflecting pool at the King Center, overlooking the foundation they laid together.

Facebook Comments