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Chapter 5: Coretta

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Book cover - The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson

I am indebted to my wife Coretta, without whose love, sacrifices, and loyalty neither life norwork would bring fulfillment. She has given me words of consolation when I needed them and a well-ordered home where Christian love is a reality.

April 27, 1927 Coretta Scott born in Marion, Alabama
January 1952 Coretta and Martin meet in Boston
June 18, 1953 King Sr. performs marriage in Marion, Alabama

It 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.

I was about to get cynical. So I asked Mary Powell, a friend from Atlanta who was also a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, "Do you know any nice, attractive young ladies?"

Mary 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.

Letter to Coretta

Darling, I miss you so much. In fact, much too much for my own good. I never realized that you were such an intimate part of my life. My life without you is like a year without a spring time which comes to give illumination and heat to the atmosphere saturated by the dark cold breeze of winter. . . . O excuse me, my darling. I didn't mean to go off on such a poetical and romantic flight. But how else can we express the deep emotions of life other than in poetry? Isn't love too ineffable to be grasped by the cold calculating hands of intellect?

By the way (to turn to something more intellectual) I have just completed Bellamy's Looking Backward. - It was both stimulating and fascinating. There can be no doubt about it. Bellamy had the insight of a social prophet as well as the fact finding mind of the social scientist. I welcomed the book because much of its content is in line with my basic ideas. I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz., to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. So I think Bellamy is right in seeing the gradual decline of capitalism.

I think you noticed that Bellamy emphasized that the change would be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. This, it seems to me, is the most sane and ethical way for social change to take place.

Eternally Yours,

Atlanta, July 18, 1952

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.

Staying with the struggle to the end

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 the movement.

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.

Letter to Coretta

July 23, 1954


How goes everything? I received your special and naturally I was overjoyed to hear from you. I was happy to know that the Women's Day went over in a big way. Your analysis of Gardner's sermon was very good. I see you are a very keen observer.

I am doing quite well, and studying hard as usual. I have plenty of privacy here and nobody to bother me.

All of your friends that I have seen are doing fine. Everybody asks about you,

We had our Philosophy Club Monday night and it was well attended. Brother Satterwhite did the paper.
How are all of the folks?

I will be arriving in Atlanta by plane at 1:25 A.M. Friday night or rather Saturday morning. You all be sure to meet me at the airport. We will leave for Montgomery sometime, Saturday morning, that is, if you can go.

Give everybody my regards and let me hear from you soon. Let me know how you are doing.

Be sweet and I will see you soon.

Your Darling,

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.

NEXT: Chapter 6: Dexter Avenue Baptist Church