Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King (Courtesy photo)

Had she lived, Coretta Scott King would have turned 90 this week on April 27.

Some choose to remember the face of a regal widow who held her child at the funeral of her husband Martin Luther King Jr., while others can still see her walking with MLK across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, or coming to D.C. to fight for so many causes, including establishing her husband’s birthday as a national holiday.

Journalist and author Barbara Reynolds, who organized a special tribute this week commemorating Mrs. King’s birthday, is among a chorus of people who say her legacy should never be forgotten.

“Coretta Scott King worked around the world teaching nonviolence,” said Reynolds, who wrote a biography of King, “My Life, My Love, My Legacy.” “She worked nonstop for 50 years to get a holiday for Dr. King. … Now her birthday comes unnoticed — I could not stand by and allow that to happen.”

Even after her husband’s death, King never stopped marching, speaking and advocating for social justice, as exemplified by her 1986 letter opposing now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ appointment to the federal bench.

“My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting,” King wrote on behalf of the MLK Center for Social Change. “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.

“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters,” she wrote. “For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”

Today, selected by President Donald Trump, Sessions is using his position as attorney general to roll back decades of civil rights gains. But he is being haunted by the words of a words of Coretta, to the point that Sen. Elizabeth Warren was rebuked on the floor of the U.S. Senate when she read parts of Mrs. King’s letters during Sessions’ confirmation hearing.

On April 27, a digital birthday party was scheduled where people were encouraged to change their social media profile picture to their favorite photo of Mrs. King with the hashtag #HappyBirthdayMrsKing.

On Friday, April 29, a Social Justice Service will be held at Howard University’s Rankin Chapel, where the first Coretta Scott King Eternal Flame Award will be presented. There will also be the presenting of “Coretta’s 7 Lasting Words.”

D.C. elected officials, members of the diplomat community and civil rights veterans are expected to attend the Howard Service. A book signing will follow the service at 3 p.m. benefiting A Teacher’s Work Is Never Done (ATWINDS) Foundation.

King was tireless as an advocate for social justice who never stop marching whether it was crossing the Alabama River in Selma or speaking at the United Nations. She exuded glamour as well as beauty. She was a wife as well as mother who cared for more than just her blood offspring.

Linda Boyd, a longtime spokesman for three D.C. mayors who worked closely with the King family, said Mrs. King was “a woman of tall dignity and grace.”

“She had towering strength in the face of challenges and adversity,” Boyd said. “She left [a] legacy for all of us to live by. Whenever the King family came to Washington, we worked together.”

Boyd reflected on a time when King attended a luncheon that was sponsored by the National Political Congress of Black Women where Mrs. King, Betty Shabazz, Mamie Till and Rosa Parks were honored.

“These widows of the movement will never be forgotten — their [legacies] will live forever,” Boyd said. “Coretta was the wind beneath her husband’s movement.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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