Coretta Scott King Honored as Civil Rights Champion Coretta Scott King, who turned a life shattered by her husband's assassination into one devoted to enshrining his legacy of human rights and equality, has died. She was 78.


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This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne are away, I'm John Ydstie. The widow of slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., has died. Coretta Scott King was 78 years old. Her death was announced today by Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a close family friend. After Dr. King's assassination in 1968, Coretta Scott King continued her husband's work for non-violent social change. Here she is speaking in an NPR interview in 2003.

Ms. CORETTA SCOTT KING (Late widow of Martin Luther King Jr.): I married Martin Luther King Jr., because I came to love him after I met him, but I also married the cause that we both shared, and the commitment. And so, that made it possible, when he was no longer here, for me to continue. Because I understood what Martin Luther King stood for, and I felt that Martin, himself, was the noble example of what human beings could achieve.

YDSTIE: Coretta Scott King speaking in 2003. Clayborne Carson is a professor of history at Stanford University. He worked closely with Coretta Scott King, as editor of Dr. King's papers, a project initiated by the King Center.

Welcome to the program, Professor Carson.

Professor CLAYBORNE CARSON (Professor of history, Stanford University): Good to talk to you, John.

YDSTIE: You worked very closely with Coretta Scott King over a long period of time, since 1985, as I understand. What impressed you most about her?

Professor CARSON: Well, I think that she was one of the great voices for peace and social justice of the last century. She, I think she had the misfortune of being compared to the legacy of her late husband, and of course, that's a very difficult to be compared to. But I think she established her own identity, her own legacy, by, after 1968, by building the King Center, by leading the campaign to bring about a national King holiday, by taking part in the Free South Africa movement.

Doing so many other things that people are not that aware of. But basically, keeping alive that legacy and taking it into a new century.

YDSTIE: As you say, Mrs. King is best known for continuing her husband's work after his death. But really, her commitment to civil rights and social justice actually developed before they even met, didn't it?

Professor CARSON: Oh, yes, during the late 1940s, she was very active in the peace movement. She was active in the progressive party during that time, which might surprise some people. Even before meeting Martin, she had a deep commitment to social justice and peace, and I think that that was what brought them together.

When I look back at the letters they wrote to each other when they were courting, it's really striking, in that, in the midst of declaring their love for one another, they're also discussing political issues, and discussing how they will devote their lives to bringing about change in the South. These were deeply committed political activists, and I think that that's what was at the center of their marriage, was that deep commitment.

YDSTIE: To what extent do you think she helped him develop as a leader?

Professor CARSON: Well, she played the role, you know, in that sense, a kind of traditional role of staying home and helping raise the family, and yet, supporting him in his effort to exert leadership in the freedom struggle. So, and I think that there was a certain frustration in that. You know, she wanted to be out doing the things that he was doing. And to an extent, she did, she, whenever, when he was stabbed in 1958 and couldn't appear at the Prayer Pilgrimage, she was there delivering the remarks that he might've delivered.

So, on other occasions, she was the one who spoke up against the Vietnam War at a time when he felt that he really could not make a strong statement against the war.

YDSTIE: Thanks very much, Professor Carson.

Professor CARSON: Sure, thank you.

YDSTIE: Clayborne Carson is a professor of history at Stanford University. He worked closely with Coretta Scott King as editor of Dr. King's papers, a project initiated by the King Center.

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