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Coretta Scott King can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Coretta Scott King in the Achievement Curriculum area:
The Road to Civil Rights

Coretta Scott King also appears in the videos:
Challenges for the 21st Century
Heroes and the American Dream

Related Links:
The King Center
civilrights.org
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Coretta Scott King
 
Coretta Scott King
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Coretta Scott King Interview

Pioneer of Civil Rights

June 12, 2004
Chicago, Illinois

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  Coretta Scott King

(On June 18, 1999, Coretta Scott King addressed the Academy of Achievement at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Excerpts from her remarks on that occasion are interspersed throughout this interview.)

What was life like for you when you were growing up?


Coretta Scott King: I grew up in the Deep South. It was totally segregated in terms of race, and everything was separate but unequal. I had wonderful parents who inspired me to be the best person that I could be, and my mother always told me that I was going to go to college, even if she didn't have but one dress to put on. So I grew up knowing that I was going to somehow find a way out of the situation I grew up in.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


I grew up on a farm. We were culturally deprived, but we were not poor in the sense that we didn't have very much. We had limited resources, because in the country at that time nobody had very much, and we had probably more than most people.


As an African American child growing up in the segregated South, I was told, one way or another, almost every day of my life, that I wasn't as good as a white child. When I went to the movies with other black children, we had to sit in the balcony while the white kids got to sit in the better seats below. We had to walk to school while the white children rode in school buses paid for by our parents' taxes. Such messages, saying we were inferior, were a daily part of our lives. But I was blessed with parents who taught me not to let anyone make me feel like I wasn't good enough, and as my mother told me, "You are just as good as anyone else. You get an education and try to be somebody. Then you won't have to be kicked around by anybody, and you won't have to depend on anyone for your livelihood, not even a man."

[ Key to Success ] Courage


My parents taught me some wonderful values that have have stayed with me, and I've built on them throughout my life. If it hadn't been for my parents, who I consider heroes, I wouldn't be the kind of person I am. I am very thankful and grateful for them. So I went to a good school, a good private school, because that was the only school close by, and it was semi-private at the time, and that school also prepared me to go on to college. I went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Antioch College, as you probably realize, is a college that teaches people how to have a world view. All races and religions were represented there, and it was an excellent education. I had a very broad background in liberal arts, and I had work experience as well. Antioch was about making change in societies, about social change, which was preparing me at that time for the role that I would play later in life.


Did you have any favorite books when you were growing up? Is there something you remember reading as a young person that had a big impact on you?

Coretta Scott King: I was inspired by the words of many, many persons. I used to recite a lot of poetry, and I was inspired by the words of Longfellow, "Lives of great men all remind us..." Even though I was a female, I thought, "Of course, that means me, too."

    "Lives of great men all remind us
    We can make our lives sublime
    And departing leave behind us
    Footprints on the sands of time."

And so on.

Besides your parents, were there other heroes or role models who were particularly important to you?

Coretta Scott King Interview Photo
Coretta Scott King: I was inspired by the likes of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, because I was in high school during the '40, and of course President Roosevelt was a hero of mine. I used to love to hear him speak, and I recognized the voice whenever he came on the radio, because we didn't have televisions back then. I never got to meet Mrs. Roosevelt. Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, a black woman who became an advisor to President Roosevelt and founded a school in Florida -- the Bethune-Cookman College -- was another great black woman that was a role model for me. And then, of course, there was Paul Robeson, who was a great singer and had such a commanding presence. When I first met him and he performed, you could just feel so much power when he walked out on the stage, and his words were so meaningful -- his very deep voice, both speaking and singing.


We've read stories of your having to go five miles to go to school and of your mother having to arrange for transportation so the black kids in your area could even go to high school. What was that like for you?

It was the way it was. I didn't like it and I always felt less -- I knew I was important as they were but it just -- it sort of brought down a curtain, you know, in a sense in my self-hood and helped me to be more -- become more determined to get out of that situation and to try to do something about it when I finally -- when I had an opportunity. I was determined myself to get an education, to get the best education possible, and to be able to come back and give back something to the community, and that was what I really went to college with my mind on as well as the New England Conservatory of Music. So I attended the New England Conservatory on a scholarship; I had a scholarship to Antioch and a scholarship to the Conservatory.

You were studying music when you met your husband, Dr. King. How did that come about? Was there someone who influenced you or encouraged you in that direction?


Coretta Scott King: I studied elementary education and music at Antioch, and I couldn't get a full music degree but I always wanted to study music; that was my first love. In high school, I had a teacher who influenced me greatly, Miss Olive J. Williams, and she was versatile in music, and I wanted to be like her. She exposed me to the world of classical music. Before then, I had never heard classical music. She exposed me also to the great composers of the world, as well as black performers, which I didn't know about at the time: Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes and Dorothy Maynor and others. So I got my foundation and my beginning there, and then, at Antioch, I built on that with another teacher named Walter Anderson. He was the one who eventually encouraged me to apply when I graduated from Antioch to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


Just as you were entering into a new chapter of your life in college you met your future husband. What were your early impressions of that developing relationship?


After my first semester in Boston in 1951, I met Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. was studying for his doctorate in systematic theology, and he was going to go back South and pastor a Baptist Church, and he was looking for a wife. I wasn't looking for a husband, but he was a wonderful human being, and he made everyone feel special, and he made me feel very special as a woman. I still resisted his overtures, but after he persisted, I had to pray about it, because my parents were religious, I was brought up in the church, and I had a strong faith. I always believed that there was a purpose for my life, and that I had to seek that purpose, and that if I discovered that purpose, then I believed that I would be successful in what I was doing. And I thought I had found that purpose when I decided that music was going to be my career -- concert singing. I was going to be trained as a concert singer at the New England Conservatory of Music. I studied voice the first year, and after I met Martin and prayed about whether or not I should open myself to that relationship, I had a dream, and in that dream, I was made to feel that I should allow myself to be open and stop fighting the relationship. And that's what I did, and of course the rest is history.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


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