Without Coretta Scott King there would be no revolutionary Martin Luther King Jr.
First published: April 2022.
Today 95 years ago a spirit was born into the world. This unique spirit would grow into a power, a power that would become the power in front of, the power beside, and the power behind the revolutionary force that would make a reality out of what had been only fanaticized about for 188 years.
Life partnerships increase our emotional well-being and create stability. Having a life partner to count on and trust in times of need, someone to vent to when we face challenges strengthens one because it takes away the feeling of loneliness. A good life partner can be the glue that holds one together during times of stress when facing down life’s difficulties. An intellectually equal life partner can reveal new knowledge which helps one to grow and learn more about themselves and the world in which they live.
Such was the case within the life partnership of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott being 2 years older than Martin King was not what made her the power in front of the future revolutionary Martin Luther King Jr., what made her a power in front was the fact that Coretta Scott was a proponent of the 1950’s peace movement before Martin King had been exposed to it. Like Dr. King, himself replied when once asked, the 1960’s acceptable but now unacceptable chauvinistic question, did he “educate Mrs. King” to become equal to him so he could share his philosophy and burden of leadership with her:
Coretta Scott introduced Martin King to the Peace Movement when they first started dating in 1952, her knowledge and concern for the larger world beyond herself were one of the things that attracted Martin King to her. Years later that same power in front of the revolutionary force of Martin Luther King Jr., would be the power in front of once again when Coretta Scott King came out publically against the Vietnam War, long before Dr. King finally did in 1967. But Coretta Scott King, the power in front of the revolutionary force, paled in comparison to Coretta Scott King, the power beside the revolutionary force.
Aside from being the parent that Mrs. King’s beloved “Martin”, as she affectionately called him, was not, the home manager he was not, an active first lady in the churches that he pastored, a participant in many Civil Rights Movement strategy meetings, a constant sounding and feedback analyst for Dr. King’s sermons and speeches, and after all that she organized and performed Freedom Concerts that combined poetry, narration, and music to tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement throughout America to raise funds to support her “Martin’s” work. It’s the Coretta Scott King sounding and feedback analyst that historians owe a debt of gratitude.
Martin Luther, Coretta Scott and Yolanda Denise King, 1956. | Wikimedia Commons
Having recently given birth to their first child, Yolanda, Mrs. King could not attend what she nor anybody else knew at the time would be the first speech to launch the Civil Rights Movement, when Dr. King spoke to the first mass meeting and declared the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Since she couldn’t be there but wanted to be supportive as well as give Dr. King feedback on the speech she arranged to have it recorded so she could hear it. That’s the only reason we have a recording of what turned out to be the equivalent of the 1776 Declaration of Independence for civil rights in America.
Like the revolutionary Dr. King, the power partner beside him, Mrs. King was not shielded from the hate and violence, in fact, she was sometimes in more harm than he was. It was Coretta Scott King at home with Yolanda and no husband for instance when their Montgomery, Alabama home was bombed! After that close call with death Mrs. King leaned into her leadership and used her power beside the revolutionary Dr. King, to mutually decide with him that as leaders while they would accept guards to protect their home, the guards could not be armed with any weapon of violence in keeping with the nonviolent principles of the Civil Rights Movement.
Coretta Scott King made this leadership sacrifice and encouraged Dr. King to do so, knowing that it was she and baby Yolanda who would be on the front line of life danger by having unarmed guards at their home because Dr. King, as was the case during the first bombing, was frequently away from their home doing civil rights work. Her willingness to risk her life for the Civil Rights Movement didn’t mean she wouldn’t use her leadership and power being beside the revolutionary King to prevent risk to his life. In 1960 her strategic thinking under great leadership stress saved Dr. King’s life.
When Dr. King was arrested in DeKalb County Georgia on a fake traffic violation, then secretly transported in the dead of night from DeKalb County jail to rural redneck Georgia’s Reidsville state prison, at the time Georgia’s most notorious prison for murdering black inmates, and because prison officials would not communicate anything about Dr. King’s wellbeing or allow anyone to have contact with him, hope for his survival was nonexistent. After composing herself from the initial fear Coretta Scott King strategically reasoned that if she reached out to the then-presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kennedy, he could attract the necessary scrutiny of Dr. King’s incarceration circumstances to prevent his murder.
Coretta Scott King’s strategic Kennedy move not only saved the life of Dr. King, but she also created for the first time true political support for civil rights in America. Her strategic Kennedy reach-out became a game-changing factor in electing John Kennedy President in 1960 thereby obliging him to support civil rights for American Blacks. After the phone call between Senator Kennedy and Mrs. King, his brother Robert Kennedy placed a call to the Governor of Georgia securing Dr. King’s immediate release from Reidsville prison.
Before Dr. King’s release from prison, all American Blacks were poised to vote for Richard Nixon, of the Abraham Lincoln Republican Party, for President of the United States. After Dr. King’s release as Dr. King’s father, Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. at that time a traditional Republican voter himself, said “I’ve got a suitcase full of votes and I’m giving them all to John Kennedy” The rest of Black America followed the lead of Coretta Scott King and King Sr., after King Sr. publically endorsed Kennedy, and all voted for Kennedy giving him what most historians agree was his very narrow margin of victory.
Coretta Scott King’s impact on American society didn’t end when the assassination of Dr. King ended her role as the power beside the revolutionary force. Just the opposite occurred as she became the power behind the revolutionary legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., having an even greater impact on American society. Her first strategic move as the power behind the revolutionary legacy was to establish, within 3 months of Dr. King’s assassination, the Martin Luther King Jr Center For Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) to serve as the Official Living Memorial to Dr. King’s life, work, and legacy.
Part of Coretta Scott King’s 1968 Founder’s statement said:
In a time when books are banned from libraries and parts of American history are not included in America’s education curriculums, the King Center’s Library and Archives serves as the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. King, and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world available to students, scholars, authors, journalists, and filmmakers to conduct research. Since the King Center was the first, and for a time the only, non-profit or for-profit institution to offer professional training to educators and students in nonviolent conflict resolution, Coretta Scott King should be considered a creator of the now budding conflict resolution industry in America.
In her role as the power behind the revolutionary King legacy Coretta Scot King had a dream of her own, that all Americans would pause and reflect on the nonviolent legacy of Dr. King at least once a year with the hope that it would encourage the evolution of Dr. King’s “Beloved Community” in America. Some said Mrs. King’s dream was an impossible dream since America had only honored one other American, Revolutionary War General, and America’s first President George Washington, with a national holiday.
Funeral service for Coretta Scott King with former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and the first ladies. | U.S. National Archives
But Coretta Scott King could see the symmetry and appropriateness of America honoring George Washington, the General of the violent war that started the creation of American democracy, and America honoring Dr. King, the General of the nonviolent war that completed the creation of American democracy. So she brushed aside the haters and non-believers and proceeded to mastermind a strategy that accomplished what was not even accomplished for George Washington.
It took 80 years after the 1799 death of George Washington before America created a holiday in his honor. Neither his wife, stepchildren nor step-grandchildren lived to experience America’s recognition of and gratitude to their relative. Coretta Scott King accomplished her “impossible dream” in a mere 16 years after the death of Dr. King! I as Dr. King’s next-generation nephew, his sister Christine King Farris’s son, not an 80 year descendent of Dr. King, appreciate the fact I and his children my cousins Yolanda, Martin 3rd, Dexter, Bernice, and his granddaughter Yolanda can experience America’s gratitude and recognition in our lifetime.
Coretta Scott King was able to lead America to grant its HIGHEST HONOR to her “Martin” even though the most powerful person at the time, President Ronald Reagan, publically signalled that he was against granting such an honor. By the time the new law creating the King Holiday reached President Reagan’s desk, Coretta Scott King had orchestrated such huge public support for the holiday President Reagan had no choice but to sign it into law.
Coretta Scott King witnesses then President Ronald Reagan sign into law the King Holiday, a holiday Reagan opposed but Coretta Scott King’s masterful and politically astute leadership forced him to sign it into law. | U.S. National Archives
Because of her unswerving and undying commitment to creating Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”, and honoring she and Dr. King’s mutual agreement pledge that the work of creating Dr. King’s nonviolent beloved community would NEVER be about them and ALWAYS be about the people and the cause, after a few years of celebrating the King Holiday Coretta Scott King knew a tweak of the King Holiday had to be made. Fearing the King Holiday would become a day of hero worship of Dr. King the man, as opposed to the worship of Dr. King’s nonviolent beloved community philosophy, she once again corralled forces and led the U.S. House and Senate to tweak the legislation that created the King Holiday.
The tweak she successfully got was to designate the King Holiday as a DAY OF SERVICE. This means the King Holiday is the ONLY holiday on the American calendar meant not to be a day of leisure off work, or a day to just celebrate a cause or person, the King Holiday is the day when ALL Americans are to do something, no matter how simple or how complex, that does not benefit themselves but does benefit another American in the spirit of Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”. It takes a true leader dedicated to the cause to say forget the compliments to the man I love, honor the man I love by doing something to help somebody else.
Today, 95 years ago, the world was blessed with a spirit that grew into a mighty and powerful force in her own independent right. Today, we honor and thank God for her birth and her powerful leadership, which has played a unique significant part in American and world history. Because make no mistake about it and don’t get it twisted, without Coretta Scott King there would be no revolutionary Martin Luther King Jr. to complete the creation of the greatest experiment known to humankind, American democracy!
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— AUTHOR —
▫ Isaac Newton Farris Jr., Nephew of Martin Luther King Jr, he serves as Senior Fellow at King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially & politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events.
- About Mrs. Coretta Scott King | The King Center
- Text: This piece was originally published in Isaac Newton Farris Jr.’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 27 April 2022, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
- Cover: Wikimedia. - This image of Coretta Scott King is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c16775. | 1964. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)