She was a woman of uncommon valor, who carried a whole movement on her shoulders. When her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was cut down in 1968 by an assassin’s bullet just days before a historic march in Memphis, Coretta Scott King shed her tears in private, planned a hero’s funeral, and then flew to Memphis to finish the march in her husband’s place.

Not once in all the years of protests, bombings, fire hoses and jails did she allow bitterness to consume her. She believed one could only be effective in the struggle for racial justice if the heart was pure. And so, with the purest heart, she continued her husband’s legacy of nonviolence; established the King Memorial Center in Atlanta; successfully lobbied to have the civil-rights leader’s birthday declared a national holiday; and spoke out on behalf of women and children, the disenfranchised and the poor. Through it all she raised four strong children to inherit the world their father had dreamed of—a world in which they would be judged only by the content of their character.

Judged by the content of her own character, Coretta Scott King was a giant among us, an indomitable spirit, a woman who showed us all how to carry the torch of freedom with courage, humanity and grace. As the Reverend Al Sharpton said after hearing of her passing on January 31, 2006, “The only thing worse than losing her would have been never having her.” May she rest in love and peace.

Coretta Scott King’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement—and the lives of every generation of African Americans since then—is immeasurable. Share your thoughts and your condolences.

Loading the player...