Article and Photo By Kenya King, Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World –
Perhaps if it were not for Coretta Scott King, there would be marginal remembrance of Dr. Luther King Jr. today. Elder Bernice King, the youngest of the King children, expounded a reminder of that possibility during her keynote address at the Women Who Dare to Dream event honoring women in the Civil Rights Movement.
The event was part of the King Memorial Dedication week activities in Washington, D.C., in August; the dedication ceremony was postponed because of Hurricane Irene. It has been rescheduled for Sunday, Oct. 16, and President Barack Obama will speak at the dedication.
“Where would the world be without women who have dared to dream and women who have sacrificed and women who have often put their own dreams aside that the dreams that lie in the hearts of men might come to pass,” said King. “The greatness of a man is usually because of the woman who walks by his side. This certainly was the case for Coretta Scott King…and we thank God for her laying the groundwork for this day.”
The defining moment of Mrs. King’s efforts was in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, ensuring that Dr King would always be recognized on every third Monday in January.
King explained that although others discouraged Coretta in her efforts, she never waivered and listened to a ‘higher calling.’
“Many told her, in fact, many men told her, ‘stay home and raise your children and let the men do the job,’ said King. “But ladies, thank God that Coretta Scott King heard another voice. A voice that sounded forth from heaven that said “Coretta King I have called you as Ester for such a time as this. You have come into the Kingdom and so go forth in the power of love. Go forth in the power of strength and low I will be with you until the end of your assignment. And so God stood with Coretta Scott King as she married that banner and championed that cause.”
King also shared the story of when her parent’s home was bombed in 1956. Coretta was home with her first born, Yolanda, and Martin was away speaking at a mass meeting concerning the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“My father said my mother had an amazing calm about her at that time,” said King. When Coretta’s father, Obadiah Scott, came to get Coretta after the bombing, Coretta refused to go. “My mother looked at my grandfather and said, ‘daddy, I’ve got to stay here with Martin.’”
King’s notable preaching skills illuminated as she described how Coretta’s calm and steadfastness remained even in Dr. King’s death. “When he died, she could have been consumed in her grief,” said King. “She could have been overwhelmed in her grief. In fact, she could have been consumed with bitterness and hatred. But no, this courageous woman, this dignified woman, this determined woman, this committed woman, this called and anointed woman decided that she would continue to champion the legacy and the work of Martin Luther King Jr., as she founded the King Center and told us that we need to study the principles, and the techniques and the philosophy of nonviolence. And so in some vain I say to people that Coretta Scott King is really the one who helped to raise a nation while also raising four kids at the same time. She was an awesome woman.”
King also recognized other women in the movement including Dorothy Cotton, who was a part of Dr. King’s executive staff; Doris Crenshaw, who worked with NAACP and Rosa Parks; and Cleo Orange, wife of the late James Orange, a “master organizer and mobilizer” for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
A rare glimpse into what went on in the inner circles of the women in the Civil Rights Movement came to light as King emphasized how those who followed her father were able to adhere to the principles of nonviolence in the face of racism.
“We had training going on behind the scenes. You see the marches and you see the water hoses. You see the demonstrations, but this was a movement that was filled with discipline and training and teaching and simulation,” said King. “They didn’t just turn another cheek. They were doing it because they had it simulated, embodied and modeled by people who showed them how to turn the other cheek. So we thank God for the women who were teaching and training in the fields and in the churches.”
King drew applause when she spoke of Dr. King’s admission that Coretta taught him many things about civil rights. She said that Dr. King was once asked if he researched Coretta’s background before marrying her and educated her on his philosophies.
“And my father said, well it may have been the other way. I think at many points, she educated me. When I met her she was concerned with the same issues as I was…So 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 this path together. She was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now.”
King explained that Coretta, also known for her work in the peace movement, had taken a stance against the Vietnam War well before Dr. King did.
“She was perhaps one of the very few people who stood with him during that very difficult time when people misunderstood his stance against the Vietnam War. Many had turned their backs on him … but Coretta Scott King continued to encourage him and applauded him and said she was waiting for the day when he would take a stance because she knew that his moral voice was needed in the peace movement. And so began a glorious journey toward continuing to rid the nation of what he calls the triple evils of poverty, racism and military.”
In an unmistakable biblical reference to John 12:14, King was not remiss to include a spiritual meaning on how Coretta Scott King had the strength to persevere and why Dr. King’s legacy still lives despite his death.
“They did not understand that unless a seed fall into the ground and die it abides alone but if it dies, it produces much fruit. So today the force that they tried to stop has actually become a stronger force, an unstoppable force.
“You may slay a dreamer, but look around y’all and watch what becomes of his dream. There are those that are carrying and embodying that dream. There are those that are continuing that work, and we will, Daddy, continue this movement. Your life will not be in vain. The blood that you shed will not be for naught. We will carry the banner and will continue on. And as you stand overlooking that Potomac [River]. We know that it symbolizes you standing as you looked over the mountaintop and you saw that promised land,” said King.
King said that her mother believed that in order to save the soul of a nation, one “must become its soul.”
“These words spoken by my mother reminds us of the significance and the importance of women to the contribution of every nation on the face of this earth.”
The Women Who Dare to Dream event, held at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, also included a poetry reading by Dr. Mya Angelou, music by India Arie and others, as well as commentary from numerous women in civil rights including Myrlie Evers-Williams, Xernona Clayton and Christine King Farris.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial officially opened for pubic viewing on Aug. 22, 2011. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation postponed several dedication-week activities in light of inclement weather.
For more information about dedication plans, visit www.dedicatethedream.org.