Social justice legacy

February 02, 2006

It takes a formidable personality to remain in the spotlight nearly 40 years after the death of her internationally prominent husband. But Coretta Scott King, who died this week at 78, was considered the first lady of the civil rights movement not only because she was married to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but because she was a fierce fighter for social justice causes on her own.

She knew injustice firsthand as a child growing up in rural Alabama where she attended a segregated school. But by the time she met her future husband, she was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music and deferred a potential career as a classical singer to become the wife of a minister who would be at the center of the struggle for civil rights and human dignity for more than a decade.

Her husband made it clear that she was a partner who was equally committed to the cause. She certainly proved that by leading a march in Memphis, Tenn. - just days after he was killed there - on behalf of the same striking sanitation workers he had championed. Along with other prominent widows of civil rights legends, such as Myrlie Evers Williams and Betty Shabazz, Mrs. King picked up her husband's banner and continued to speak out. And while she fought successfully to have his birthday declared a national holiday and started the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, she also gained her own voice and associated herself with other human rights efforts, including women's equality and apartheid in South Africa.

Through her indomitable spirit, dignity and commitment, Mrs. King created her own independent legacy as a warrior for justice and a national inspiration.

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