this WSB clip, from Saturday September 11, 1971 in Fort Benning,
Georgia, Coretta Scott King, widow of the Reverend
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks about the relevance of nonviolence as a means
for productive social change. The week previous to the clip was
filled with controversy in Columbus about the newly desegregated
After Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, Mrs.
King became widely influential. Considered an icon of the Civil
Rights Movement, many
respected her. Because of that esteem, she was often put in the
public eye to remind people of Dr. King’s goals, and to reinforce
the changes in society that had occurred in the earlier parts of
the movement. As heir and executor of the King legacy, Mrs. King
King Center on June 26, 1968. Based in Atlanta,
and started in the basement of the King home just more than two months
after her husband’s murder, the center was intended to be a multi-purposed
endeavor. In addition to serving as a living memorial to her late
husband, Mrs. King’s mission was to preserve Dr. King’s ideals,
to further his life’s work, and his philosophy of nonviolence for
reconciliation and social change. Mrs.
King channeled all of her grief resulting from her husband’s assassination
to organize the center which would produce and collect books, audio,
videocassettes and film to educate others about Dr. King’s teachings.
In decades after, The King Center would also be responsible for CDs,
web pages and other digital media.
As soon as The King Center opened its doors, Mrs. King began directing
her staff to plan
for a national observance of Dr. King’s birthday. The
initiative called for a nationwide commemoration, educating people
on Dr. King’s unfinished work of nonviolent
direct action. In the
years it took for the legislation calling for a holiday to honor Dr.
King, Mrs. King seized every opportunity she could to call attention
to his message and his unfinished mission. She helped gather petitions
bearing over three million signatures, held press events, as well
as used any news opportunities available to her in order to call attention
to her cause and that of those seeking social change. In 1986, Congress
designated the third Monday in January as the federal holiday known
as Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. Day.
During Dr. King’s life, though he always
respected his wife’s involvement in the movement, the two sometimes
conflicted over how much time she should spend at home raising the
family. After his death, Mrs. King was able to dedicate more time
to being involved in fighting many different forms of injustice. Although
under the surveillance
of the FBI from 1968 until 1972, Mrs. King
never stopped getting involved. She fought for the rights of women,
gays and lesbians, as well as rallied for economic issues and world
peace. She participated in sit-ins in Washington D.C. protesting the
War, spoke against capital
punishment, the 2003
invasion of Iraq, and invited the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force to take
part in the viewing of the 40th
anniversary of the March
Seriously criticized by some black pastors because they believed she
was not following her husband’s conservative ways, Mrs. King is said
to have responded by reminding them of Dr. King’s far-reaching indictment
that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
At the time of her death in 2006, Mrs. King was widely regarded as
a civil rights champion and was a constant reminder of the personal
sacrifice that many women made to the movement. With Dr. King’s death,
she lost not only a husband but the father of her children. Like widows
Myrlie Evers (Medgar
Evers) and Betty
X), Mrs. King
was faced with having to bear her personal loss while carrying on
a complex legacy. After her death, many began to question the roles
these wives played in the movement outside of their marriages. As
the study of the movement refocuses on the women who were not only
wives but field workers and activists, it becomes more apparent that
the struggle for civil rights was not just a black, male battlefield.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. Listen to the NPR
interview of the contents of the
FBI's file on Mrs. King. What threat did activists pose to the FBI?
Why would the organization increase surveillance on
Mrs. King after Dr. King's murder?
2. What do you think Dr. King would have thought about
Mrs. King’s increased involvement in the Movement after his death,
given their disagreement about her time spend in the Movement during
3. How far do you think issues such as minority rights,
gay and lesbian rights, and religious rights have come today? Are
rights better, worse, or do they appear to be better but in reality,
4. How did Myrlie Evers and Betty Shabazz respond to the deaths
of their husbands, Medgar
Evers and Malcolm
X? To what extent did
they remain active in the Movement? What ideas and projects did
they introduce that they conceptualized and developed independent
of their husbands?
it to the Streets!
The First Lady of the United States has important responsibilities
and duties that often are overlooked or ignored. Develop a
timeline of First Ladies from Eleanor Roosevelt to Laura Bush, in
which you list both their expected duties and the personal projects
they championed. What
similarities do you find in their accomplishments? How did
some or all of them redefine the role? What do you expect when the
gender roles are one day reversed, and the President is a married
and Researchers: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, and Professor
Web Site Designer: William Weems
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