Coretta Scott King – Her Life, Love, and Legacy

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“I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation.” – Coretta Scott King

Civil rights activist and wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and work we honor today, spoke passionately about gay rights and women’s rights in addition to racial justice and equality for all people. While she is known largely for the work she did alongside her husband, she was a bold leader in her own right, and deserves her own tribute. In Ms. King’s  memoir, “My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” in bookstores tomorrow, hours of recorded interviews with journalist Barbara Reynolds gives an intimate look inside this pioneering woman’s life and legacy.

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Ms. King has been called the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement, a term some argue keeps her too much in the shadow of her husband. A vocal advocate for racial equality, she founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia in 1969. She is responsible for pushing legislation that ultimately declared Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a national holiday, and has contributed to the LGBT rights movement and women’s movements. She served as a Women’s Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and as head of the U.S. delegation of Women for a Meaningful Summit in Athens, Greece, among other accomplishments.

In 2004, when former President Bush supported a bill that would make same-sex marriage illegal, she had this to say:

“Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

Among her many impressive feats, in 1983, she marked the 20th anniversary of the historic March on Washington by leading the “Coalition of Conscience,” a gathering made up of more than 800 human rights organizations. Her life’s work was all-encompassing and included racial and economic justice, gender equality, LGBT rights, children’s rights and peace efforts, making her a true champion of human rights.

Yet, like most women who are mothers and wives while also making history, she felt conflicted.  Speaking about her struggle to serve both home and country (and the world) she reveals in her memoir,”Granted, Martin was always ambivalent about my role out front, which sent me traveling across the country instead of staying at home. I suppose I experienced the personal dilemma that baffles every working woman. What happens when you are expected to be Superwoman, to perform a dozen conflicting tasks at the same time? I was trying to balance my concert career with motherhood and my responsibilities as Martin’s wife and chief confidante.”

“I suppose I experienced the personal dilemma that baffles every working woman. What happens when you are expected to be Superwoman, to perform a dozen conflicting tasks at the same time?”

She was a woman who worked hard to make the world a safer and more peaceful place, while putting her family first. That in itself deserves recognition and celebration. Maybe we need to instate a new national holiday – Coretta Scott King Day.

Ms. King died in 2006 from complications related to cancer, but if she were alive today perhaps she’d approve of and attend The Women’s March on Washington.  We could certainly use her strength and leadership right now. We could use more women like her in the world.

“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”

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