I’m going to start by telling you what I’ve been telling everyone in my life: “If you haven’t seen “Selma,” you need to as soon as possible and make sure to take friends and family with you.” The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, is an honorable historical account that simultaneously shines light on contemporary issues of police brutality and civil rights violations in the US. I could go on and on about my love for this work of art but there is one thing that I feel the need to be very critical of. This is the minimum, or rather, complete lack of attention paid to Coretta Scott King’s numerous accomplishments. With a film directed by one incredibly accomplished black woman, I had hoped for her to see the importance of shining light on another.
This dismissal of King’s legacy was made most apparent during the closing scene when each character’s story beyond “Selma” is summarized briefly in a few sentences, and the attribution given to CSK is her work to make sure MLK day was instituted as a national holiday. Now, this is a HUGE accomplishment and one that took around 15 years to come to fruition, but if that’s what anyone thinks her legacy should amount to, they are sorely misinformed. And I want to spend a little time here informing them correctly.
Coretta Scott King was extremely accomplished well before she even met Dr. King. She was known as an artist for her beautiful singing and violin playing. She graduated from her high school as valedictorian in 1945 and went on to receive a BA in education and music from Antioch College. She then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music after being awarded an esteemed fellowship to do so. It was in Boston where she met Dr. King and before marrying him she achieved a second collegiate degree in voice and violin.
She was a civil rights activist in her own right who worked closely with her husband. According to biography.com, “Coretta took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, journeyed to Ghana to mark that nation's independence in 1957, traveled to India on a pilgrimage in 1959 and worked to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, among other civil-rights-related work […] she worked as a public mediator and as a liaison to peace and justice organizations.”
When MLK was assassinated in 1968, CSK continued her important work. She became founder, president, and executive officer of the MLK Center for Non-Violent Social Change. She published her own column, was a regular commentator on CNN and published a memoir in 1969. She was also a huge activist for LGBT rights stating by advocating on this community’s behalf she was simply helping to build "the beloved community of Martin Luther King, Jr., where all people can live together in a spirit of trust and understanding, harmony, love and peace." Throughout all of this, she worked tirelessly to keep her husband’s legacy alive. Oh, and let’s not forget she was the mother of 4 children. Our beautiful queen passed away after an incredible life in 2006 at the age of 78.
So next time you think of Coretta Scott King, you should think of much more than her accomplishment of establishing an extremely important holiday and maintaining reverence for the great Dr. King. You should also think of the honor and respect she deserves for her other contributions, we should work just as tirelessly to keep her story alive as she did, and we do, for her husband. On a larger scale, when it comes to telling the stories of all the women who paved paths for us, we shouldn’t forget the roles they played working alongside their male counterparts but we should not let these overshadow their individual identities and stories.
I found information for this blog on the following sites: