- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The country lost a national treasure Monday with the passing of Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a formidable voice for justice in her own right. Mrs. King took up her martyred husband’s mantle; she helped ensure that the struggle for racial equality would live on. Her passing just a few short months after Rosa Parks is a reminder that the number of great civil-rights pioneers still living is ever dwindling.

When Coretta Scott met Martin King in Boston in 1952, she was studying music at the New England Conservatory and he was pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Boston University. They married the next year and moved to Montgomery, Ala., where King became pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — arguably the birthplace of the modern civil-rights movement. At the very least, it was the place where King’s inspirational leadership reached maturity — with all that it would imply for the civil-rights struggles of the coming years.

Sketches of Mrs. King — who balanced raising a growing family with speaking engagements of her own and marches with the masses — tend to suggest that she became whole as a civil-rights pioneer only after her husband’s tragic assassination. Surely she would loom larger in the public eye afterward, but the underlying Mrs. King was already there — something King himself emphasized shortly before his death. He disputed the notion that Coretta was somehow second in conviction and leadership; according to King, she had the fire long before the two ever met.

As he put it in a 1967 interview: “I think, on many points she educated me. When I met her she was very concerned about the things we are trying to do now.

“I never will forget the first discussion we had when we met was the whole question of racial injustice and economic injustice and the question of peace. In her college days she had been actively engaged in movements dealing with these problems. I must admit — I wish I could say — to satisfy my masculine ego, that I led her down this path; but I must say we went down together, because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now.”

Mrs. King’s most important legacy is inspiration to millions who worried that the United States would veer down the wrong path and return to the segregated and violent days before the civil-rights movement. Most immediately, that legacy is embodied in the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a “living memorial” in Atlanta — of the reverend’s archives, his boyhood home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the reverend’s grave and offices — which draws approximately 650,000 visitors each year. But writ large, her real legacy consists of the lives she touched, the minds she changed and the spirit of justice she embodied.

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