Chapter 5: Coretta
I am indebted to my wife Coretta, without
whose love, sacrifices, and loyalty neither life nor work
would bring fulfillment. She has given me words of consolation when
I needed them and a well-ordered home where Christian love is a
was in Boston that I met and fell in love with the attractive singer
Coretta Scott, whose gentle manner and air of repose did not disguise
her lively spirit. I had met quite a few girls in Boston, but none
that I was particularly fond of.
Powell introduced us and I was fortunate enough to get Coretta's
telephone number. We met over the telephone: "This is M. L. King,
Jr. A mutual friend of ours told me about you and gave me your telephone
number. She said some very wonderful things about you, and I'd like
very much to meet you and talk to you."
We talked awhile.
"You know every Napoleon has his Waterloo. I'm like Napoleon. I'm
at my Waterloo, and I'm on my knees. I'd like
to meet you and talk some more. Perhaps we could have lunch tomorrow
or something like that."
She agreed to see
me. "I'll come over and pick you up. I have a green Chevy that usually
takes ten minutes to make the trip from B.U., but tomorrow I'll
do it in seven."
She talked about
things other than music. I never will forget, the first discussion
we had was about the question of racial and economic injustice and
the question of peace. She had been actively engaged in movements
dealing with these problems.
After an hour, my
mind was made up. I said, "So you can do something else besides
sing? You've got a good mind also. You have everything I ever wanted
in a woman. We ought to get married someday."
I didn't want a wife
I couldn't communicate with. I had to have a wife who would be as
dedicated as I was. I wish I could say that I led her down this
path, but I must say we went down it together because she was as
actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now.
I told my mother, "Coretta is going to be my wife." On June 18, 1953, we were married. Although we had returned to Marion to be married by my father on the Scotts' spacious lawn, it was in Boston that we began our married life together.
Coretta Scott is a native of the South. She is from Marion, Alabama, and she went to college in Ohio, Antioch College. Having inherited a talent for music from her mother, Bernice Scott, as well as the strength of quiet determination, she had then gone on with the aid of a scholarship to work her way through the New England Conservatory in Boston. She wanted to be a concert singer. She was a mezzo-soprano and I'm sure she would have gone on into this area if a Baptist preacher hadn't interrupted her life.
Coretta's father, Obie Scott, a short, stocky man of dark complexion, is a strong and courageous man. People are strongly attracted to him because of his warm personality. He loves people and is always ready to help someone in need. Although reared on a farm, Obie Scott was always concerned about going into business for himself. He finally succeeded and operated a trucking business, a combination filling station and grocery store, and a chicken farm. Despite the reprisals and physical threats of his white competitors, he attempted to get ahead in these various businesses and dared to make a decent living for his family. He has never been an Uncle Tom, but he had to suffer certain insults and even humiliation in order to survive in his community. The amazing thing is that he came through all of this with his courage undaunted, without becoming bitter. Coretta often made comparison between me and her father. Even in the early days of our courtship, she used to say, "You remind me so much of my father." I don't suppose any compliment could be more inflating to the male ago.
Coretta's mother, Bernice Scott, is quite different from her father in many respects. In contrast to his overflowing personality she is rather shy. She is an attractive woman, fair in complexion, possessing narrow features and long black straight hair. In knowing her, one soon detects that she is a person of courage, determination, and amazing internal strength. She is deeply devoted to her family, always willing to sacrifice her needs to those of her children. More than anyone else, she taught Coretta her moral and ethical values, not by what she said alone, but also by her example.
My devoted wife has
been a constant source of consolation to me through all the difficulties.
In the midst of the most tragic experiences, she never became panicky
or overemotional. I have come to see the real meaning of that rather
trite statement: a wife can either make or break a husband. My wife
was always stronger than I was through the struggle. While she had
certain natural fears and anxieties concerning my welfare, she never
allowed them to hamper my active participation in the movement.
Corrie proved to be that type of wife with qualities to make a husband
when he could have been so easily broken. In the darkest moments,
she always brought the light of hope. I am convinced that if I had
not had a wife with the fortitude, strength, and calmness of Corrie,
I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding
She saw the greatness
of the movement and had a unique willingness to sacrifice herself
for its continuation. If I have done anything in this struggle,
it is because I have had behind me and at my side a devoted, understanding,
dedicated, patient companion in the person of my wife. I can remember
times when I sent her away for safety. I would look up a few days
later, and she was back home, because she wanted to be there.
Coretta was never satisfied in being away from me, but she could not always be with me because she had to stay home with our four rather young children. She did join me on some occasions, and she was always a deep consolation to me, supporting my every move. I didn't have the problem of having a wife who was afraid and trying to run from the situation. And that was a great help in all of the difficulties that I confronted.
Coretta had to settle down to a few concerts here and there. Basically she has been a pastor's wife and mother of our four children, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, Yolanda Denise, and Bernice Albertine.
When I thought of my future, I also thought of my family. I had to think of what's best for them also. One of the frustrating aspects of my life has been the great demands that come as a result of my involvement in the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice and peace. I have to be away from home a great deal and that takes me away from the family so much. It's just impossible to carry out the responsibilities of a father and husband when you have these kinds of demands. But fortunately I have a most understanding wife who has tried to explain to the children why I have to be absent so much. I think in some way they understand, even though it's pretty hard on them.
The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.