11 Facts About Coretta Scott King You Probably Didn't Know

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A letter from Coretta Scott King made major headlines this past week after her words from 1986 were read on the Senate floor by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Or, more accurately, Warren attempted to read King's letter to then-Sen. Strom Thurmond, exhorting him to reject Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship. Thirty years ago, President Reagan had nominated Sessions, an Alabama attorney at the time, to become a federal judge. But due primarily to accusations that Sessions harbored racist sentiments, he was ultimately rejected by a bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee. As King's letter was part of the testimony brought against Sessions, now seems an apt moment to look back on the life of Coretta Scott King, an extraordinary woman.

Most people know Coretta Scott King first and foremost as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But her lifelong advocacy for oppressed and underrepresented people the world over deserves recognition in its own right. By the time she passed away in 2006, King had achieved enormous gains for justice and peace. She was a mother, a wife, a civil rights activist, a passionate speaker, an organizer, and a source of inspiration for millions around the world. Here are just a few lesser-known facts from King's iconic life.

1She was valedictorian of her class.

A native of Marion, Alabama, Coretta Scott King graduated at the very top of her Lincoln High School class.

2She studied concert singing at the New England Conservatory of Music.

After graduating from Antioch College in Ohio, King went on to Boston where she earned a degree in violin and voice.

3She was an early protester against the Vietnam War.

Even before Dr. King spoke out against the fighting in Vietnam, Coretta Scott King had taken a vocal stand against the war, long before it became popular to do so.

4She went on a month-long pilgrimage through India.

Carl Court/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The principles of non-violent resistance exhibited by Gandhi drew both Coretta Scott King and Dr. King to India, and their travels throughout the country further solidified their belief in the power of non-violent protest.

5She is why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day.

In 1983, Coretta Scott King saw her 15 years' worth of lobbying work finally come to fruition in an Act of Congress that made the third Monday of every January officially Martin Luther King Day. He was the first non-president to have a national holiday in his honor.

6She founded The King Center.

Hosting over 1 million visitors a year, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change was founded by Coretta Scott King. The 23-acre complex surrounds Dr. King's tomb and childhood home in Atlanta, Georgia.

7She did not always appreciate how Hollywood and the media portrayed her.

Coretta Scott King wished to be recognized as more than just an accessory to her husband. Barbara Reynolds, a journalist and King biographer, relayed this quote from her in the Washington Post:

8She campaigned for gay rights.

Coretta Scott King felt equal justice for the gay and lesbian community was essential to any true civil rights commitment.

9There is a Coretta Scott King forest in northern Israel.

Trees were planted in the Biriya Forest in honor of Coretta Scott King and her vocal denouncement of anti-Semitism.

10She was arrested for protesting apartheid.

Coretta Scott King, her son Martin III, and her two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice, were all arrested in 1985 for protesting the South African policy of apartheid outside the nation's embassy in Washington, D.C.

11There is a Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy in Atlanta.

Founded in 2007, the Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy (CSKYLA) graduated its first class of seniors in 2014. Dedicated to ensuring that all its graduates go on to attend and complete college, the high school is inspired by the life's work of Coretta Scott King herself.

These are just a few examples of the widespread impact Coretta Scott King had, both on our nation and the world. She led a life full of action-based commitment to justice for all.