Tribute to the First Lady of the U.S. civil rights movement

(8 February 2006) -- CORRIE is returning to Atlanta, Georgia where she wanted to be buried alongside her husband, the Reverend Martin Luther King. She died at the age of 78 on January 31 in Rosarito, Mexico, where she had sought alternative treatment for advanced ovarian cancer after having suffered a heart attack and a brain hemorrhage in August 2005.

Flags flew at half mast throughout the country as a final tribute. Thousands of people came to Atlanta, not only from other cities of the state but also from far away, arriving at the city's Capitol building to pay their respects on Saturday, February 4.

They braved the persistent and cold rain of Monday 6 to attend the services in the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where her husband preached, and later at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church of Lithonia.

They came and will continue to come by the thousands to the provisional mausoleum that she founded in the King Center on Auburn Avenue which for six years held the remains of the indisputable leader of the long struggle for African-American civil rights, a movement that, with good reason, named her its First Lady.

The nation still needs leaders with her strength, courage and dignity, said the Houston Chronicle in an editorial announcing the death of Corrie, noting that she had played three major roles in her lifetime and in each she demonstrated the strength and grace that few U.S. citizens could fail to notice and appreciate: she was the wife of a hero, Martin Luther King and mother to their four children; behind the scenes she firmly supported the civil rights movement, facing danger and surviving a racist bombing of her own home in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956; and when the valiant and dignified Reverend was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, she was the inspiration and faithful guardian of his ideals in rejecting violence, hatred and revenge, and was transformed, through her own actions, into a civil rights leader.

But she was an activist even before marrying Dr. King, given that she was born on April 27, 1927 in a rural area near Marion, Alabama. She was raised there in one of the most virulent racist regions of the United States, plagued with the cruelest and most absurd segregation, that long trail of slavery that remained unalterable in a huge section of the United States until the long struggle, led by women and men like Dr. King, bore fruit.

A promising opera singer in Boston, she returned to the South with her husband in the early 50s, where Blacks could not eat in the same restaurant with whites nor sit next to each other on the bus or train, or vote to elect government authorities. "Whites Only" or "Coloreds Only" were the signs marking this separation at the entrance to restaurants, hotels, water fountains, private buildings, schools etc. The law in the south stated that if a Black person was sitting on a bus and a white person wanted that seat, the former would have to stand and allow the latter to sit.

December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus and a boycott headed by Dr. King began, which lasted more than a year. In 1956 the Supreme Court declared local segregation laws unconstitutional. That boycott gave Dr. King international fame and he emerged as the clear leader of the civil rights movement; at his side was Coretta.

Many still remember that when those marches and demonstrations started in the southern cities, she sang to raise funds to sustain the struggle and, while caring for her four children, was part of the battle of an entire people.

Remembering this period, in January 2005 Coretta told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "As we were thrust into the cause, it was my cause, too. I married the man and the cause. I realized I, too, could be killed."

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which in combination prohibit segregation, labor discrimination and the practice of keeping Blacks from the polls, were achieved because millions of African Americans took to the streets convinced by the impassioned words and example of Dr. King, which were defended with hope and constant dignity by Coretta Scott King, who worked relentlessly to preserve the great legacy of Martin Luther King.

Corrie never had a break from the turmoil of her life; she was undeterred by real threats; she stayed on course, persisted and fought tough battles against racial injustice, economic inequality, hate crimes, violence and the military adventurism of her country.

She triumphed in her efforts to have the birth date of the distinguished fighter, Dr, King, declared a national holiday in the United States.

In Atlanta, she established the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, a research and activist organization that promotes the principles and practices championed by her husband, and which is annually visited by more than 650,000 individuals, many of whom are conscious of the need to continue the struggle for genuine equality.

She persisted in the battle against racial exclusion that still deprives many U.S. citizens the right to an education and the possibility of a better life, because although the institutional laws say that discrimination is illegal, it has not been totally abolished in the country, where symbols and leaders such as Coretta Scott King are still needed.

In a speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the Poor People's Campaign, she spoke of her husband's vision of equality that included the ability of women to fight against "racism, poverty and war." At the end of the 1960's she became an active participant in the peace movement against the war in Vietnam. She was also a lawyer for women's rights and sexual diversity and a fervent opponent of apartheid in South Africa.

"In our own struggle against apartheid in South Africa, Coretta and Dr. Martin Luther King were at all times a towering presence, who ... provided guidance, inspiration and, indeed, helped us to maintain the unshakable belief that we, too, would overcome," said South African President Thabo Mbeki, recognizing the contribution and the honorable position of the King couple.

Coretta never bought the official story that Rev. Martin Luther King was the victim of a lone assassin, James Earl Ray. She always searched for the truth. Despite not being able to prove a government conspiracy against her husband, she tried to bring the FBI and the government to trial for decades of threats, espionage, vigilance, intimidation and slander campaigns against Dr. King and other Civil leaders.

For all this, for her persistent struggle for African-American civil rights, for justice for all men and women, and for peace, Coretta Scott King has her place in history.

Special for Granma International, Havana

Comments to : Copyright New Media Services Inc. 2006. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of shunpiking magazine or New Media Publications. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. Copyright of written and photographic and art work remains with the creators.