We’d be remiss if we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. without acknowledging the backbone of his activism, his wife, Coretta Scott King. Afterall, she spearheaded the campaign to make his birthday a national holiday. While we know her as a lifelong human rights activist and champion of The Civil Rights Movement, she was first a decorated student before becoming a pivotal voice in social justice advocacy.
Born in Alabama in 1927, Coretta Scott attended Lincoln Normal High School, a historic African American school, and graduated valedictorian. The school was established less than 2 years after the end of the Civil War with the sole purpose of educating newly-freed African Americans. It became known for its high graduation rate with students who moved on to receive advanced degrees; an undoubtedly large feat for a segregated high school in rural Alabama.
Upon graduation, Coretta Scott settled in at Antioch College in Ohio, where she studied music education. It’s no surprise she chose to land at Antioch; a college breaking the mold since 1850. According to its website, “Antioch College has been a pioneering and values-driven secular institution since it was founded in 1850. The College was among the first nonsectarian educational institutions in the United States. It was the first coeducational college in the nation to offer the same educational opportunities to both men and women and it was the first to appoint a woman to its faculty and to its Board of Trustees. It was also among the first to offer African-Americans equal educational opportunities.” Coretta Scott went on to graduate with a B.A. in music education in 1951 and the college has since established The Coretta Scott King Center, with her permission, “...that provides education, awareness and advocacy around issues of social justice and diversity. The Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom facilitates learning, dialogue, and action to advance social justice.”
Continuing north, Coretta Scott attended New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts where she continued her music education. NEC is a private, not-for-profit institution offering educational programs from preparatory through doctoral level. “New England Conservatory educates and trains musicians of all ages from around the world, drawing on the talent and deep reservoir of experience of our distinguished faculty. We are dedicated to inculcating the highest standards of excellence and nurturing individual artistic sensibility and creative growth. Understanding that music is one of the transcendent expressions of human civilization, NEC aspires to ensure it has a central place in contemporary society.” It was during her time at NEC that Coretta Scott met her eventual husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was attending Boston University for graduate studies. Now Coretta Scott King, she graduated from NEC in 1954 with a Bachelor of Music in Music Education, received an Honorary Doctor of Music in 1971, and a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004, for which she delivered two commencement speeches.
As described on The King Center website, “One of the most influential African-American leaders of her time, Mrs. King received honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities; authored two books, edited a compilation of selected quotes by Dr. King, maintained a nationally-syndicated newspaper column, and served on and helped found dozens of organizations, including the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable.”
She was an asset to The Civil Rights Movement and a champion of education both inside and outside the classroom.