The recent dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. monument offered a splendid tribute, crowned by President Barack Obama linking his presidency to the martyred human rights leader.
The Obamas tour the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial prior to its dedication Sunday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
The centerpiece of the monument on the National Mall is a towering 30 foot statue of Dr. King carved out of stone. It is a grandiose salute to a man who–without an army, weapons or a national treasury–commanded a war so unlike that of Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln who are enshrined in memorials nearby.
But there is a glaring omission: any mention of the words and deeds of Coretta Scott King.
Dr. King commanded a spiritual army that helped liberate the heart and soul of America from its deepest hatred and molded it into a liberation movement for freedom and dignity that resounds around the world.
Coretta King was his other half. She did more than anyone else to advance his legacy. And, dare I say, if it were not for this woman by his side, his legacy would never have risen to such heroic proportions.
Somewhere on that vast four acres there should be a statue, a bust, a plaque or something showing that she was a co-partner in this great freedom movement. (She died on Jan. 30, 2006.) Why not a mention of her on the monuments wall of great quotes? He once said, “In every campaign if Coretta was not with me, she was only a heartbeat away.”
As I started interviewing Mrs. King in the mid-1970’s, it was clear that she did not see herself as an appendage or a footnote in history. She often emphasized that she was more than a wife during Dr. King’s life and more than a widow after his death. She once told me “My story is a freedom song of struggle. It is about finding one’s purpose, how to overcome fear and to stand up for causes bigger than one’s self.”
In fact, one of Coretta’s most cherished quotes symbolizes what kind of woman she was. Horace Mann, the founder of Antioch College, her alma mater, once said, “If you have not found a cause to die for, you have not found a reason to live.”
Those were not mere words to her. Coretta lived at a time when she virtually had to have the faith of a prophet and nerves of steel. During the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, carloads of Ku Klux Klan drove through black housing sections. The Kings received constant threatening calls. On January 30, she was in the house with her infant daughter, Yolanda, when their house was bombed.
“We could have been killed but it was just not our time to die,” she told me.
Despite the terrorism and the pleas of her parents to leave Montgomery, Coretta stayed with Martin until the 369-day boycott successfully ended.
“During the bus boycott I was tested by fire and I came to understand that I was not a breakable crystal figurine,” she said. “If I had been fragile and fearful, this would have been too much a distraction for Martin. Certainly his concern for my safety and that of the children would have prevented him from staying focused on the movement. But he came to understand he could trust me with trouble. In Montgomery, I was tested and found I became stronger in a crisis.”
Source: Washington Post / The Root DC | Barbara A. Reynolds
Dr. Barbara A. Reynolds, the author of six books, including “Jesse Jackson: America’s David,” is working on a biography of Coretta Scott King. An ordained minister, she is a former columnist and editorial board member of USA Today.