Exclusive: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King Jr. & Coretta Scott King

By Young, Andrew | Ebony, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Exclusive: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King Jr. & Coretta Scott King


Young, Andrew, Ebony


CORETTA SCOTT was already a woman of purpose when she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Her purpose: to follow in the footsteps of Marian Anderson as a concert singer.

She was "born" in Boston after a decade of struggle and humiliation in rural Alabama, which had already started to forge her "iron will and determination." She was born in Marion on April 27, 1927, to Bernice McMurry Scott and Obidiah Scott.

She'd fed the chickens and milked the cow before sunup so as to make the 3-mile walk to the segregated elementary school on time. There--in a one-room schoolhouse with brilliant, dedicated teachers--she began to shine in music. The Mount Tabor AME Zion Church children's choir had given her confidence when all the saints shouted and amened their approval of her voice. She later attended the Lincoln Normal School, which, she said, opened the world of music to her.

Hard work and education were the basic values of this beautiful young woman, and she continued both to supplement her scholarship with jobs as a hotel maid and waitress in Boston, where she met Martin in Feb. 1952.

In Alabama, Coretta was a services "Sister," who would pick as much as 200 pounds of cotton on a Saturday so that she could stay after school for music lessons.

Martin Luther King Jr. was from another genre. Sporting a Big Apple hat, always wearing a dress suit, Stacy Adams shoes and driving a green Hudson Hornet ... sharp as "rat [turds]" that's on both ends. He was hardly the kind of man Coretta was looking for. But all the women were after "M.L.," and for most Boston bourgeois beauties, he was considered the prize catch.

His father, Martin Luther King Sr., was known as a great preacher, co-founder of Citizens Trust Bank (Atlanta's first Black bank) and a powerful man who re-entered elementary school at 19 and worked his way on through Morehouse College. Everybody knew "Daddy King," and loved and admired him.

Having been poor most of his life, he wanted Martin Jr. to marry into a family with "money," and he had several prominent beauties on his "recommended" list in Atlanta.

But Coretta saw a "playboy preacher" who was too short, too spoiled and too impressed with himself, and it took several dates--long afternoons walking along the Charles River and attending the Boston Pops concerts--for him to realize this woman was different.

Martin had worked in the tobacco fields of Connecticut as a Morehouse student and in a mattress factory in Atlanta, so he knew and respected "back-breaking labor." It also challenged his ego that Coretta was cool and aloof to his Shakespearean approach. For her, this was "the Morehouse Line": Turn your English literature major into a line of "jive" to impress the ladies while trying to mask one's own insecurity and anxiety about where life was about to take you.

Coretta was impressed by his eloquent romanticism, but her experience with preachers and churches in rural Alabama did not offer a life worth trading for her concert ambitions. And, anyway, there were so many girls after Martin, she was not interested in competing for his attention.

Martin's roommate, the Rev. Philip Lenud, bless his soul, was convinced that Coretta was the girl for Martin. So he asked Coretta to help him to organize a surprise birthday party for Martin. Coretta cooked a good"down-home meal" in Martin's apartment. When he came home, the party was in full swing, with Coretta as the hostess, and all his other girls he was courting were enjoying the party. But they knew they were shut out by the beautiful Alabama Sister who was as at home on the concert stage as she was in the kitchen.

This would remain Coretta's approach to other women who became infatuated with her husband. She would, in [EBONY founder] John H. Johnson's words, make herself indispensable, and never worry about the rumors, gossip and even FBI-planted tapes and charges. …

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