Coretta Scott King Carried On Husband's Work

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Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., has died. She was 78 years old, and suffered a serious heart attack and stroke last August. Madeleine Brand looks back at King's life and her efforts to carry on her husband's civil rights work.


Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., has died. She was 78. She was studying music in Boston more than 50 years ago when she met the man who would change her life and that of the country. Asked to lead the historic 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, Dr. King worried he might not be ready. Here's Coretta King from the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize.

CORETTA SCOTT KING (Wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.): Martin said well, you know I'm not sure I'm the best person for this position since I'm new in the community but if, if no one else is going to serve, you know someone has to do it and I'd be glad to, I'd be glad to try to do it.


The success of the boycott led to her husband's role as a national civil rights leader. But his achievement and fame often meant anguish for her. Every year of their marriage she was frightened that her husband's enemies would kill him, and in 1968 he was assassinated. As recounted in this interview from 2003, Coretta King's work then became keeping her husband's dream alive.

Ms. KING: I understood what Martin Luther King stood for and I felt that Martin himself was the noble example of what human beings could achieve and I was hoping that we could raise up younger generations of people who would follow in Martin Luther King, Jr's. methods, principals of nonviolence and methods to bring about social change and to create the beloved community that he envisioned.

BRAND: She led the effort to build Dr. King's memorial center in Atlanta. In 1983 she saw her husband's birthday become a national holiday. Until recently she continued to campaign for equality and worldwide peace. And here she is speaking at a King Holiday event in 2003.

Ms. KING: Martin made his words credible with action. As he protested against the war in Vietnam, may his challenge and his example guide and inspire us to seek peaceful alternatives to the war with Iraq and military conflict in the Middle East and all over the world.

BRAND: Coretta Scott King suffered a stroke and heart attack in August that led to her death overnight. She's survived by her four children.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: And you can follow a timeline of the big event in Coretta Scott King's life; it's at our website NPR dot org.

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