Coretta Scott King: the woman behind Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Coretta Scott KingIn honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today, we pause to take a look at his widow’s role in making this day a reality.

On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray.  Two months later, Coretta Scott King established The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta as a living memorial to her husband, promoting his teachings and preserving his papers.  Soon after, she began preparations to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  And in January 1969, The King Center sponsored the first annual observance of his birthday. 

For the next 14 years, Coretta Scott King lobbied to create a national holiday in honor of her late husband.  In addition to contacting individual governors, mayors, and city council chairpersons, she spearheaded a national lobbying and educational campaign and testified before Congress.  Without her significant efforts, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day may never have come to be.  Coretta Scott King’s dedication resulted in President Reagan signing a bill on November 3, 1983, to establish the third Monday of every January as a national holiday in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Five years ago this month, Coretta Scott King passed away from advanced ovarian cancer and respiratory failure.   When received news of her death, we created a Guest Book through which people could share memories and condolences.  We were instantly flooded with notes from people whose lives she had touched.  And with more than 25,000 entries, her Guest Book became the second most visited in our history (Rosa Parks’ Guest Book is the most visited).  Here is a small collection of the tributes we received for Mrs. King:

**I join people throughout the globe; in every village, in every hamlet, in every township, in every city, in every suburb who weep that an Angel has left us. Yet rejoice knowing that this rose has finally found her rest and will join her noble friend and loving husband in Heaven!

**My heartfelt condolences to the family of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. at her death. She bravely picked up the legacy of her assassinated husband and worked for the betterment of all people of the world for the rest of her life. She will be sorely missed.

**A rest well deserved for a soldier that fought a good fight. Imagine, Dr. King, Mrs. King, and Rosa Parks in Heaven! I got to get myself together, that’s a place I want to be.

**I remember as a little girl meeting with Mrs. King, as my mother worked for her. She has truly been a blessing to our race. God has taken you home to be with Dr. King once again. You will be truely missed, and never forgotten. Rest in peace

**Your mother lead a life of quiet dignity. I still remember, as a child, seeing your mother standing with your father, supporting him through the trials and tribulations of his leadership. Her strength and dignity reflected the kind of person we should all strive to be.

To view other tributes, or leave your own, please visit Coretta Scott King’s Guest Book.

About Katie

I joined in 2002 as a part-time content screener and now serve as Director of Operations, overseeing Legacy’s day-to-day operations (Guest Book screening, obituary processing, customer service, and client service). I grew up in California, the daughter of a psychologist and a minister. My parents instilled in me the importance of listening to and caring about others. One of the things I appreciate most about working at is that I am able to have a small part in easing people's pain during one of the most difficult times in their lives. In my life outside of Legacy, I enjoy baking treats (and bringing them to the office to share), playing the piano, reading, taking pictures, tending to our vegetable & herb gardens, trying out new restaurants and foods, spending time with my husband, Chuck (whom I met at Legacy) and our kids, Brett Jr. & Josie.
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