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Essay: Martin Luther King’s captivating speech

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Though often an overshadowed individual within the captivativing character that is Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King forged Martin’s achievements further both within the Civil Rights Movement as well as the years preceding his assassination. It is within her autobiography, titled Coretta: My Life, My Love, My Legacy, that Coretta Scott states, “Of course, while my memoir is about me, it is about Martin, too. Our lives were too inseparable to be perforated. Cutting us one from the other would leave a jagged edge. Yet, I did have a life after Martin, just as I had a life before Martin. I have a purpose. I have a mission, and I have carried it out on the world stage.” (Scott King & Reynolds 2). Through her continued activism in the Movement and years preceding Martin’s death, Coretta Scott King fostered an everlasting legacy for King, bringing Martin, herself, and followers closer to the frequently mentioned “promise land.” (King 5).
With a bright and promising music career on the horizon, Coretta was given the choice of following music or Martin. In her 1969 narrative, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.. Coretta opens up in regards to her apprehension stemming from Martin’s discussion on early marriage. Coretta found herself grappling with the idea of risking the loss of her music career or losing her chance to marry King (Scott King 56). Eventually, these concerns would subside and Coretta would take on the title of Mrs. Coretta Scott King. As the years passed, Coretta adopted many roles within the movement, aiding in King’s work. In her article, “Coretta Scott King and the Struggle for Civil and Human Rights: An Enduring Legacy”, Vicki Crawford states, “During these years Coretta Scott King maintained a commitment to peace and civil rights activities, joining her husband at marches, demonstrations, and on trips around the world whenever possible. At the same time, Coretta King tried to maintain some semblance of “normal” family life for the children. She shuttled her husband to and from the airport, picked up children from school, helped with homework, prepared meals, while staying on top of the movement’s developments.” (Crawford 110-111). In the same article, Crawford provides evidence to Coretta’s work with the movement and the ways in which she managed to incorporate her musical talent. The article states that Coretta was able to host “freedom concerts” in various venues which in return brought both awareness and financial support to the Movement (Crawford 112). Though Coretta’s choice to marry Martin overtook her musical future, it sparked the beginning of her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.

Coretta’s movement involvement did not cease to exist with “freedom concerts”, rather, she desired to march alongside Martin and members of the community. Balancing her role as mother, wife, and public figure Coretta made strides to fulfill all roles to the best of her ability. King even makes mention of his wife’s presence within the movement. In Stride Toward Freedom King states, “My wife and I awoke earlier than usual on Monday morning. We were up and fully dressed by five-thirty. The day for the protest had arrived, and we were determined to see the first act of this unfolding drama.” (King, Jr. 41). As King was heading events for the movement, Coretta stood beside him in solidarity. Unfortunately, Coretta’s role as wife often overshadowed her interest in the movement, holding her activism back in certain cases. In Stephen J. Wermiel and Robert E. Stein’s journal article, “Human Rights Hero: Coretta Scott King”, it states, “During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (March) in 1963, she was not allowed to march with her husband and the other leaders, as the event’s Planning Council had decided that only the top leadership would walk in the March.” (Wermiel & Stein 25). The article goes on to quote Coretta highlighting her disappointment with this decision. Coretta Scott King felt the importance of her own activism and the wives of the leaders was greatly undermined (Wermiel & Stein 25). Coretta Scott King was yet to know that her activism would be upheaved in only five short years. Though greatly unpredicted and unfortunate, Coretta’s involvement in the work of the movement and Martin would increase following King’s assassination.

Following the death of her beloved Martin, one would have expected for Coretta to take strides away from the Movement. Instead of denouncing the movement, Coretta dove into continuing King’s work. Laura T. McCarty touches on this in her book, Coretta Scott King: A Biography. McCarty states, “She was determined to do more than raise children. She was committed to seeing that her husband’s work was carried on.” (McCarty 58). Coretta was certainly aware of the difficulties that would follow her in her strides to further a movement that recently lost its most influential leader. Though apprehensive in where to set her first strides, Coretta Scott King would soon begin her continuation of King’s work and legacy. McCarty states, “Coretta’s vision of how to memorialize Martin included several components. She felt strongly that the neighborhood in which he grew up and worked should be preserved and enhanced as tourist attractions. She also intended to collect and use his writings and those of other civil rights groups to preserve the stories of the movement.” (McCarty 57). Eventually, Coretta Scott King would have constructed what was to be known as the “Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc.” (Crawford 113). Through her incorporation of King’s homegrown nature as well as his influential work, Coretta guaranteed a stepping stone for the still present and growing movement. Through this particular memorial, Coretta had given the community a map that could be expanded upon, in hopes of eventually leading the community to the “promised land.” (5).

Coretta Scott King forged many paths to continue King’s work, made successful by her ability to draw on King’s oral presence, rally for further change, as well as establish lasting national awareness of King. In his autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Ralph David Abernathy introduces audiences to Coretta’s oral attraction. Abernathy states, “Thousands came to hear Coretta King give a stirring speech, calling for “black women, white women, brown women, and red women— all the women of this nation— [to join] in a campaign of conscience. She called for welfare reform, and a restoration of benefits for women with children, saying: “Our Congress passes laws which subsidize corporation farms, oil companies, airlines and houses for suburbia, but when it turns its attention to the poor, it suddenly becomes concerned about balancing the budget.”” (Abernathy 511). Though no rival to the audiences that gathered to hear King’s words, Coretta’s ability to draw upon thousands speaks to the desire of a lasting legacy. Much of the books and articles draw upon Coretta’s expansion of Martin’s activism through her public and private discussions.. In particular, The King Center’s website states, “Coretta Scott King tirelessly carried the message of nonviolence and the dream of the beloved community to almost every corner of our nation and globe.” (Thekingcenter.org).While Martin’s work was focused in America, eventually stemming to Vietnam, Coretta took his ideologies and made them worldwide phenomenons. The King Center’s website goes forth to state, “During her lifetime, Mrs. King dialogue with heads of state, including prime ministers and presidents, as well as participating in protests alongside rank and file working people of all races.” (Thekingcenter.org). Coretta Scott King’s ability to advocate for those individuals overlooked or not yet mentioned in King’s work with the movement allowed her to further a communal push towards King’s mentioned “promised land.” (5).

Though the spreading of his ideologies furthered his work, Coretta’s ability to create national awareness of King guaranteed a legacy that would even outlive her. In her continuation of Martin’s work, Coretta felt that it was necessary to have a definitive mark of the barrier breaking work King achieved during his lifetime. Eventually, Coretta was able to pass through Congress a national holiday that would honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Crawford states, “Coretta King led the lobbying campaigns to establish Dr. King’s birthday as a federal holiday, the only national holiday to be named in honor of an African American.” (Crawford 114). As mentioned on The King Center’s website, “…in January 1986, Mrs. King oversaw the first legal holiday in honor of her husband–a holiday which has come to be celebrated by millions of people world-wide and, in some form, in over 100 countries.” (thekingcenter.org). Martin Luther King, Jr. day remains as the only day celebrated for a single individual, a great representation of King’s work to promote and further the African-American people, and just the overall world population.

As the years progressed, Coretta Scott King would achieve far more, both with work in honor of King as well as work she felt she was called upon. The character that Coretta Scott King displayed allows one to derive a number of thoughts in regards to King as an individual. King was a well educated man, a devoted preacher, and unforgettable leader in activism. It is not absurd to say that if anyone were to rival the work of Dr. King it would certainly be his wife. Martin was a man of virtue and he clearly applied the values and beliefs of his faith to every decision he had made. King’s decision to marry Coretta was not one he thought upon as simple. Dr. King has chosen to marry a woman who held God as high as he did. Coretta was incredibly God-like in the many sacrifices she made throughout her marriage and entire life. Sacrificing normalcy and privacy, Coretta worked to create the greatest life for King and their four children. The greatest life Coretta could create is one in which she furthered the work of King and never allowed for his success and ideologies to be forgotten. As stated by Coretta herself, “There was much I had to learn to do in the course of my life, and I did not have a blueprint. I could not call upon Martin as Martin had called upon me. I made mistakes, but I pray those will be charged to lack of understanding and not to malicious intent. I learned how to lobby, how to advance human rights through the political system, from city councils to state houses to Congress to the White House itself.” (Scott King & Reynolds 5). Though apprehensive, living in a unknowing state, and even living with the title of a widow, Coretta Scott King took every opportunity to learn and grow in the direction that Dr. King had grown. Coretta’s work made it possible for King’s legacy to live on, as well as allowing future communities to guide both his and her work forward.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is one that is everlasting, and much of that is credited to his monumental work. Mrs. Coretta Scott King generates and provides an individual with a greater knowledge of Dr. King’s work. Coretta Scott King has provided to many an ability to celebrate and immerse themselves in the environment where King’s activism flourished. Through her lifelong devotion to King, and her admiration of the movement, Coretta Scott King has given King a lasting legacy, as well as brought the community closer to King’s desired “promised land” (5).

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