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                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Coretta Scott King: in memoriam

When I was in seventh grade I was a member of a small group of students from St. Luke's Elementary school in St. Paul Minnesota who were spirited out of class and to Minneapolis to hear a lecture by Mrs. Coretta Scott King.

Mrs. King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke at Coffman Memorial Union Hall on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It was, the best I can guess, 1981. She filled the auditorium that day. We sat high up in the balcony.

That did not matter. I can remember Mrs. King to this day. She said these words, very clearly, over and over again, in way of explanation and in way of proselytizing: non-violent, civil disobedience. It was the philosophy of her late husband.

Mrs. King spoke of Gandhi. She spoke of Dr. King. She spoke of history. She spoke of how love conquers hate. She spoke of tactics in confronting injustice. It was clear, from Mrs. King's words, that there was something here larger than herself, larger than her husband, larger than their role in our nation's history. She came to talk about that larger "struggle of humankind"...about a philosophy so powerful it might lead us forward together. She talked about a political philosophy that dared to use the word love even as it confronted hatred, bigotry and injustice.

Dr. King died for justice. You may paint him any way you wish. But Mrs. King was clear. Dr. King died for something much bigger than one cause, than one movement, than one moment in history. He was a part of something that transcended our United States, even if he was completely "of us."

There was not a lot of the 'personal' in Mrs. King's speech. She was teaching. She was leading. She was moving forward alone. And she stood alone that day, at a podium, in the spotlight. Her address was formal. Precise. Pedagogical. She had a message to burn into our hearts and minds.

For myself, Coretta Scott King was the first person I heard say those words so clearly: non-violent, civil disobedience.

We waited in the hallway after Mrs. King's speech. Two of the young girls from our group were taken backstage to meet Mrs. King. We were a symbolic generation...those children born in that year of turmoil of 1968...a year she lost so much. We were, at the time twelve and thirteen years old.

We waited after the speech because, like, I assume after all Mrs. King's speeches, she was going to meet children who'd been named for her. And even in that year when she lost her husband, there were parents all over the nation who named their daughters....Coretta....and Mrs. King had time for them, had time to meet them, to touch them, to say hello.

I can't imagine how she felt at those moments.

Now, a parent knew just what that name meant in 1968. Coretta. Pride. Courage. Indomitable faith in the face of enormous loss. The will go keep going come what may. A love that looked forward with strength and pride.

Mrs. King knew this first hand. So many Corettas. So much hope. A struggle so much larger than any one life.

Pride. In the name of love.

Coretta Scott King: 1927-2006.


  • The Kings have been my personal heros for most of my life. They are not just black heros, or American heroes, they are heroes to the world.

    I definitly agree with Coretta, that what her late husband and herself have worked for does not belong to them or a time period or a certain group of people. It spans the ages and cultures of the world.

    I still see the movement now. I hope with all my heart that the children and future generations of the world will be able to recognize it in its changed shapes and join this wonderful beautiful thing that is so much bigger than and so very important for us all. =).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:23 AM  

  • This is so beautifully written; thank you.

    I wanted to say that I tho't what President Clinton said at the funeral yesterday is well in line with what I think your memory demonstrates: This was a woman. She was not a symbol alone.

    Granted, she was a woman of great courage and purpose, but at heart, she was a woman, a human being. It is this that makes her even more a role model, someone to emulate. I love knowing that she, too, experienced frustrations and lived through and with them, did not run from them. That's more than a legacy, in my mind.

    By Blogger Belinda Yamate, at 11:45 AM  

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