As the world finishes its 29th official annual observance of “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,” I consider Coretta.
More than the weeping widow of a martyred leader, Mrs. King masterfully transcended the traumatic loss to establish The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change within months after his assassination. She is widely acknowledged for her activism before and beside Dr. King and recognized for the successful lobbying for today’s federal holiday.
Her work after losing him stands as a testament to her dignified resilience, unwavering integrity and humble brilliance. She devoted herself to creating a living memorial that corrects the accuracy of the arc of history that would inevitably record Dr. King’s life and work. She understood the heart of her husband’s mission, that it extended well beyond civil rights legislation. She worked tirelessly to move his economic justice agenda forward through her community work and programmatic initiatives through The King Center.
Her indomitable commitment to advancing her husband’s ideals was even more remarkable—or perhaps necessitated—amid a shroud of negativity leading up to his murder. She refused to allow the world to use rose-tinted glasses to see her husband, but sought the effective transformation of his memory as America’s “number one threat,” as declared by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to beloved hero. It was Coretta who pushed his image as inspirational icon for humanity, an embodiment for lasting social, political and economic justice.
This courageous will to ensure a lucid national remembrance of Dr. King was equally demonstrated by President Obama during his remarks for the official dedication of the King Memorial on the National Mall:
We forget now, but during his life, Dr. King wasn’t always considered a unifying figure. Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many, denounced as a rabble rouser and an agitator, a communist and a radical. He was even attacked by his own people, by those who felt he was going too fast or those who felt he was going too slow; by those who felt he shouldn’t meddle in issues like the Vietnam War or the rights of union workers. We know from his own testimony the doubts and the pain this caused him, and that the controversy that would swirl around his actions would last until the fateful day he died. I raise all this because nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work, Dr. King’s work, is not yet complete.
This week we honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King just as we honor the legacy of Dr. King. It is a legacy that you carefully continued and deeply wove with the threads of your love and life.