I will never forget, as a child of 13 years of age, going through my neighborhood with a friend collecting signatures on a petition which the two of us had written ourselves asking that the Congress of the United States pass a civil rights bill to guarantee the equal protection of the rights of all Americans, black or white - to vote, to use the same public facilities, to go about their lives in peace. Nor will I forget the faces and reactions of the people in the predominantly white, upper middle class neighborhood in which I was raised. Some smiling and welcoming, others frowning and shocked that two young men would be so politically active or perhaps at the very issue.
My parents had taught me well of the principles on which the United States of America was founded. Freedom, individualism, equality. Yet, I think they too were a bit surprised (putting it mildly) that I had taken their lessons literally and taken action, especially with regard to black people. Well, that was life in America in the early 60's. The legislation we requested in the petition was in fact passed a couple of years later.
Coretta Scott King may have been a person in the background while her husband, Martin, was still alive. But immediately after his assassination, she picked up his torch and carried on. Sadly, their vision has never been realized in America. I wonder if it ever can be. The flaw in the founding of America, as predicted by Thomas Paine, the legacy of slavery - racism and violence - will take a long time to resolve.
As to her life, I will let Mrs. King's words speak to us of its meaning:
"When I say I was married to the cause, I was married to my husband whom I loved -- I learned to love, it wasn't love at first sight -- but I also became married to the cause. It was my cause, and that's the way I felt about it. So when my husband was no longer there, then I could continue in that cause, and I prayed that God would give me the direction for my life....But then I finally determined that it was the King Center, because Martin's message and his meaning were so powerful....So I felt that my role, then, was to develop an institution, to institutionalize his philosophy, his principles of nonviolence and his methodology of social change, and that's what I have spent my years doing."