January 31, 2006
King Institute founder Clayborne Carson reflects on Coretta Scott King
With the death Tuesday of Coretta Scott King, wife of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the world "has lost a forceful and consistent voice for peace and social justice throughout the world," said history Professor Clayborne Carson, founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.
Scott King had served as the chair of the advisory board of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project, now the King Institute, since 1985, when she called Carson to ask him to edit her late husband's papers.
"People tend to see Coretta Scott King in relation to her husband, as somebody who was completely in the background, but she was just as politically engaged as Martin was," said Carson. "When you look at the pictures of the major protests of the 1950s and '60s, she's often right there by his side, leading the marches."
As a student at Antioch College in the 1940s, Coretta Scott was active in the peace movement and attended the 1948 Progressive Party convention. "She was a strong Henry Wallace supporter at a time when that was not a typical thing for college students to be involved in," Carson said. "Indeed, she was more politically active at the time they met than Martin was."
Letters between the two during their courtship mixed romance and discussion about political topics, Carson said. "I thought it was very revealing about the early relationship between them, particularly about how their relationship was always this mixture of personal and political."
Carson edited The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which carries the late civil rights leader's expressions of appreciation for Scott King and her contributions to his success.
"My devoted wife has been a constant source of consolation to me through all the difficulties," King wrote. "In the midst of the most tragic experiences, she never became panicky or overemotional. I have come to see the real meaning of that rather trite statement: A wife can either make or break a husband. My wife was always stronger than I was through the struggle.
In the darkest moments, she always brought the light of hope. I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength and calmness of Corrie, I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding the movement.
"She saw the greatness of the movement and had a unique willingness to sacrifice herself for its continuation," King continued. "If I have done anything in this struggle, it is because I have had behind me and at my side a devoted, understanding, dedicated, patient companion in the person of my wife."
An expanded statement and a biography of Coretta Scott King are available on the King Institute website.