Coretta Scott King’s My Life, My Love, My Legacy is a fascinating historical document, chronicling her personal journey through professional trials, tribulations and, thankfully, triumphs.
Highly visible supporting Dr. King, she nonetheless recalls that in 1957, as her husband grew internationally famous, thanks to making the cover of Time, “I had many questions and I was seeking direction about what awaited me around the corner. Could I continue my career as a concert singer? Should I be expected to become a public speaker? How could I balance being there for Martin and being home with the children and being deeply involved in the movement? How could I compartmentalize myself in so many ways and still hold on to the corner of my life that belonged strictly to Coretta?”
It would turned out not to be easy and, in fact, because she shared so many of her husband’s principles, even after his assassination she found herself shouldering a huge workload he’d left in his career’s wake.
No privileged princess to the manor born, Scott King came by intestinal fortitude the hard way. A child, working from before sunup until after sundown, hiring out as a field hand at age 12 to help the family make ends meet, a work ethic was ingrained. She withstood the tragedy and trauma of terrorists first burning down her childhood home, then her father’s saw mill.
More than survive, she prevailed to win scholarships at Antioch College, then the New England Conservatory of Music, where she was introduced to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Long before popular feminism, she knew what it was to fight for her rights and reflects, “Far too much of the valuable role that women played in the Montgomery [boycott] movement and other such efforts has been lost to history.”
Accordingly, she relates, “It should be remembered that it was Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State and College and then-president of the Women’s Political Council, who put in place a plan for a citywide bus boycott more than a year before Mrs. Parks’ arrest.”
She did, of course, blaze her own path as a woman of international consequence, helping create the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act, becoming a Jimmy Carter appointed delegate to the UN and interacting in the world’s political arena with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Indira Gandhi and more.
She notes, “The American Civil Rights Movement and King Center helped provide the leadership…that captivated nations from Europe to Asian, from Africa to Central America.”
Regrettably, along with right-wing detractors, supposed allies failed to appreciate her significance. Senator George McGovern, whom she’d endorsed for president, turned around and exploited her as a publicity shill, rudely so, manipulating her with blatantly crass disrespect.
Ostensibly the two were, by telephone, straightening out a snafu over what third party would make the nominating speech to trumpet McGovern’s tossing his hat in the ring. In reality, McGovern was showboating.
“[He] kept talking and talking, not allowing me to get a word in. When I turned on the television that night, I saw news clip about McGovern and his courtship of black leaders. [It] included the conversation. So that explained why he’d kept talking: the conversation was being filmed. Wouldn’t it have been nice if he had told it was being recorded and being aired?”
Another affront, against the caution of advisers, Ms. King installed Antioch School of Education graduate Thomas Porter to head up the King Center, dedicated to the advancement of the legacy and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I had made a mistake. Right away Tom started making demands and publicly saying things that embarrassed us.
“I took him with me to the Democratic National Convention in California. Junius Griffin, who at that time was the publicist for Motown, picked [us] up in a Rolls-Royce limousine; after that, Tom started giving people the impression that I was running around in big limousines, which the King Center couldn’t afford.
“Then I took him to a black leadership meeting where he embarrassed me by using foul language. Instead of apologizing for his behavior, at the next board meeting he said, ‘I have to have absolute control of the budget.’” Whereupon with that last straw he’d worn out his welcome and, having exhausted her patience, she and Andrew Young finally fired Porter.
From CBS’s legendary 60 Minutes which accused her of peddling her husband’s idealism for profit while itself charging $1,000 a minute to license its footage of his “I Have A Dream” speech to the renowned Links, whose Atlanta chapter spitefully gossiped about her for being so tied up multitasking she’d simply forget to return their calls, it’s noteworthy how callously the great lady was treated in some quarters.
Ultimately, it is an affirming, even inspirational memoir. This was a best-seller coming out of the gate. The publisher heightened the book’s prestige item with afterword pages by Andrew Young, John Conyers, Maya Angelou and others with a closing reflection by her daughter Dr. Bernice A. King.
In all, enjoying My Life, My Love, My Legacy is an opportunity not to be missed.
My Life, My Love, My Legacy
Henry Holt and Company, 2017
ISBN: 1627795987, 9781627795982