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Coretta King Mourned as "First Lady" of America's Civil-Rights Movement


February 1, 2006 | bpfna

Coretta King Mourned as

Coretta Scott King, 1927-2006

By Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
January 31, 2006

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Baptist leaders mourned the passing of a life -- and an era -- Jan. 31 in honoring the legacy of Coretta Scott King.

Family members told media organizations Jan. 31 that King, the widow of slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., died in her sleep the night before. She was 78. According to the Associated Press, she was being treated at a holistic health-care clinic in Rosarita Beach, Mexico, near San Diego. She had reportedly been in poor health since suffering a heart attack and stroke last August.

 "A great light has gone out," said Gary Percesepe, director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, in a statement sent to supporters of the anti-violence group. "Come children, gather up all the candles of our lives, and let us together light the world for freedom, for justice, for peace."

King was thrust into the spotlight of the burgeoning civil-rights movement along with her husband, who led the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955-56. At the time, Martin King was the young pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. He later became pastor of his home congregation, Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Like King, many African-American Baptist ministers and churches were at the forefront of the civil-rights movement. After King's assassination in 1968, Coretta King worked to carry on his legacy through the establishment of the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta.

"Our Baptist sister, Coretta Scott King, showed us how to launch a prophetic critique of the 'principalities and powers' of this world," said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. "She and Martin Luther King Jr. both taught by their lives and witness that church-state separation does not divorce religious ethics from public life."

“The nation as a whole -- red, yellow, black and white -- owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Mrs. Coretta Scott King and her husband, Dr. King,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "Their collective courage, bravery and Christian dignity helped to guide America through one of the more difficult and heartbreaking periods of our history. Together, Dr. and Mrs. King did more for racial reconciliation in this nation than any couple in our history."

In a White House statement, President Bush said: "Mrs. King was a remarkable and courageous woman, and a great civil-rights leader. She carried on the legacy of her husband … including through her extraordinary work at the King Center. Mrs. King's lasting contributions to freedom and equality have made America a better and more compassionate nation."

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), himself a leader in the civil-rights movement, noted that Coretta King "embraced her place as a preacher's wife but soon found herself in a much broader role. Her husband's rise as the face and voice of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s was due in no small part to the advice and counsel of his dear wife."

Coretta Scott was born April 27, 1927, in rural Heiberger, Ala., to a family that was hardworking but with more resources than many other blacks in the segregated South of the time. She attended a private school run by missionaries in nearby Marion, and followed her older sister, Edythe, to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Her sister had been the first African-American to enroll at the school, long known for its liberal social activism.

She graduated with a degree in music and education, and went on to further study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. There she met King, who was in divinity school nearby.

The two married and had four children. Recent infighting among King's heirs over the direction and management of the King Center garnered some negative publicity for Coretta King, but little of that was evident in the eulogies for her.

Roy Medley, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches, said his organization celebrated her legacy. "Over the decades, American Baptists have been especially moved by Mrs. King and her husband through their participation in ministries endorsed by this denomination," he said, according to American Baptist News Service. "She was a compassionate voice for the voiceless, who responded powerfully to Jesus' call to peacemaking."

Aidsand Wright-Riggins III, executive director of ABC's National Ministries and an African-American, said King and her family "sacrificed personal self interest and professional advancement for the larger social good. When I reflect upon her life and service to her family, to America and to the larger world community, I am convinced that the 20th and 21st centuries were blessed by one of our faith's greatest saints."

Coretta Scott King is survived by her children, Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter King and Bernice King; and by two siblings: her sister, Edythe Scott Bagley of Cheney, Pa., and her brother, Obie Leonard Scott of Greensboro, Ala. Funeral arrangements were not available by press time for this story.

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