Millennials have grown up in a world where Martin Luther King Day always existed — but someone had to campaign to make that happen, and now, it's time to recognize that she deserves part of the day's celebration in her own right. So this MLK day, let's celebrate Coretta Scott King alongside her husband, and not only as MLK's famous widow. Not only did she continue her husband's fight for civil rights — she took that spirit into similar battles all over the world and behalf of a huge range of people.
King's legacy already made an appearance in the news early in the Trump administration, when Elizabeth Warren attempted to read King's letter about Jeff Sessions' history of racism on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then cut her off, giving rise to the now familiar phrase "Nevertheless, she persisted." Far beyond having her letter silenced in the Senate chambers, though, King really did persist — and her achievements earn her far more than just a sidebar mention on a holiday that she was instrumental in helping to create.
King, who studied music in college, originally joined the fight for civil rights because of Martin's involvement in it. Although he would have liked her to stay home and focus on their children, King carved out her own place in the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. If Martin wasn't available, for example, King would be asked to speak instead of him as a face of the movement's nonviolent wing.
After her husband's death, King had to pick up his work as a part of the Civil Rights Movement while at the same time taking care of the couple's four children. Far from letting the magnitude of her tragedy hamper her work, King led a sanitation workers' march in Memphis only four days after her husband's assassination. Moving on from there, King carried on Martin's legacy — and then expanded it beyond anything he had ever had the chance to express.
Perhaps most famously, she founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which she eventually gave over into the control of her children so that it could continue. Under that umbrella, she lent her voice to the support of several other movements where the same spirit of nonviolence was applicable.
In one notable example, she was an early and loud voice supporting the LGBTQ rights campaign at a time when there were few others next to her. She tirelessly worked to support peace efforts around the globe, beginning with her early opposition to the Vietnam War and continuing throughout her life.
She and her children were also arrested for protesting against Apartheid in 1985, and she also spoke out against the Iraq War and campaigned for peace in the Middle East. As a part of these efforts, she helped organize countless rallies, conferences, marches, and summits — often with an eye to getting more women involved and engaged in activism. She was an intersectional feminist before the term existed, and she succeeded in opening doors for women even though women's rights were only one of her many passions.
For all of this, she was frequently rewarded with a place at some of the most memorable historical moments in the past several decades. She was there when Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat signed the Middle East Peace Accords, and she witnessed Nelson Mandela's ascension to the presidency of South Africa in person. She had the opportunity to meet with Pope John Paul II, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama. And back home, she never forgot her original work, founding a range of organizations including the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable.
Coretta Scott King knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. deserved to be honored with a holiday — and as part of her work to gain him that honor, she did more than enough to gain a piece of that holiday for herself. On that day, let's not forget her contributions to American society and to the world.