A Blueprint for a Stronger America in Coretta Scott King

Embodying Coretta Scott King means acknowledging the genius women bring to the table in complex times—and letting us rise to lead amid today’s challenging times.

Coretta Scott King addresses the “Solidarity Day” rally of the Poor People’s Campaign from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, June 19, 1968. (Getty Images / Bettmann)

Most Americans recognize and value the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on our country. His legacy has influenced many Americans’ views on racial equality, and his work undeniably propelled the collective pursuit to deliver the promises of our nation’s founding to all—although plenty of work remains to turn his famous dream into reality. 

However, what is often overlooked when we think about Dr. King is the essential role his wife, Coretta Scott King, played to fortify his work. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is crucial to recognize the indomitable spirit of women like Coretta Scott King who carved a path for change in a time less forgiving, demonstrating the irreplaceable impact of feminine leadership. She was a warrior for social justice her entire life, whom we should remember and embody this month—and every month—in the ongoing journey to create a more equitable America. 

We should emulate the fearlessness of a woman who made it her mission to resist the conventions of her time to be a visible participant in challenging a broken status quo. In 1945, Scott King left her rural Alabama home to attend Antioch College in Ohio. There, she joined the NAACP chapter, the school’s Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committees, and protested against discrimination in teaching. She became a student delegate supporting presidential candidate Henry Wallace at the Progressive Party’s national convention in 1948. 

Coretta Scott King also voiced her opposition to the Vietnam War earlier than her husband. When asked if he had shaped her views, he responded, “She educated me.” Scott King was the only woman to speak at an anti-war rally at Madison Square Garden in 1965, two years before her husband’s famous speech against the war at Riverside Church in 1967. 

In reflecting on the monumental challenges faced by women of Scott King’s era, we gain a deeper appreciation for the strides made towards gender equality, acknowledging that, while the landscape has evolved, the journey towards equitable opportunities remains ongoing. She was an activist partner and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and she stepped into a prominent leadership role in the movement for civil rights and equality after he was assassinated. She made her mark, furthering the social justice changes he fostered, and continued advancing civil and human rights around the world for the rest of her life. Two months after her husband’s assassination, Scott King founded The King Center and went on to speak out for global peace and equality until she died in 2006. Thanks to her advocacy, her husband’s birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. 

This moment in history is a testament to the growing influence of women in leadership roles. As we honor figures like Coretta Scott King, we recognize the unique value and perspective women bring to the forefront in navigating complex times. Coretta Scott King was a strong force for change in her own right—a maker of many inspirational moments through her actions and words. Coretta Scott King’s example serves as a beacon, guiding us through today’s political and cultural strife and highlighting the unique challenges faced by women. Her enduring call to action inspires us to embrace the historical strength of women, shaping a more just and equal society.

In 1968, Scott King spoke at a Solidarity Day rally during the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., which drew over 50,000 people to protest the unacceptable conditions tens of millions of poor and low-income people across racial lines were facing. Originally a project of her husband’s, Scott King became one of the campaign’s public leaders following his death, a role she embraced with unwavering fortitude at a time when women were rarely given an opportunity to be heard. On that day, she shared:

“In this society, violence against poor people and minority groups is routine. I remind you that starving a child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her child is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical needs is violence. Contempt of poverty is violence. Even the lack of willpower to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.” 

She vehemently debunked the myth that people can succeed in life without supportive systems, quality housing, and adequate wages. Yet, even today, our systems and structures are not designed with everyone’s success in mind, laying bare ongoing inequities in life outcomes. Embodying Coretta Scott King means prioritizing our common humanity over political allegiances in our political and social choices. It also means acknowledging the genius women bring to the table in complex times and letting us rise to lead amid today’s challenging times. Scott King made it known that she believed women’s leadership was critical to the nation’s success when she declared, “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”

Coretta Scott King braved enormous headwinds because of her race, gender, and motherhood. Newly widowed and mired in grief, she spoke truth to power when it would have been difficult for most in her situation to find the courage to speak out. She committed herself to the higher purpose of serving the greater good. Her compassionate resilience is a trait each of us can strive to emulate to create an equitable America for generations to come.

Read more:


Tricia Raikes is the co-founder of the Raikes Foundation with her husband, Jeff. The foundation works toward a just and inclusive society where all young people have the support they need to reach their full potential.