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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 3, 2006

Coretta Scott King was a vocal supporter of LGBT rights

Atlanta, Ga.--Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., passed away on January 30 at a hospital in Mexico. She was 78.

King, already in declining health following a heart attack and a stroke in late summer, was battling ovarian cancer.

While first known as the wife of the charismatic and influential Dr. King, and still thought of primarily in regards to race, Coretta Scott King was a vocal supporter of LGBT civil rights, representing both herself and her husband’s legacy.

When anti-gay forces trying to repeal Miami-Dade County’s equal rights law in 2002 sent out a flier saying that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be outraged at its gay-inclusive nature, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change intervened, issuing statements arguing that the flier dissembled.

“I appeal to everybody who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbians and gay people,” she said on August 1, 2002.

While establishing the King Center as the home of the largest collection of King’s writings and personal papers, Coretta Scott King also fought tooth and nail to carry on his legacy, repeatedly invoking his statement, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Her position often put her at odds with both her niece and her youngest daughter, both of whom have taken stands opposed to LGBT civil rights and marriage rights.

While her niece, Alveda Celeste King, in 1997 said, “To equate homosexuality with race is to give a death sentence to civil rights. No one is enslaving homosexuals . . . or making them sit in the back of the bus,” Mrs. King had come out three years earlier in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

At the time, she noted, “Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”

She quoted her husband, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.”

In 2003, Mrs. King personally invited LGBT groups to participate in the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington where her late husband gave his “I have a dream” speech, one of the defining moments in the civil rights struggles of the 20th century.

“Coretta Scott King’s legacy is really one of inclusion: a celebration of life under an ever-expanding big tent with room for all types of Americans,” said Ted Jackson, president of the Greater Cincinnati Log Cabin Republicans. “We are thankful for her unchanging commitment to fairness.”

“Once in a lifetime, God grants us with the ability to witness an extraordinary life dedicated to justice,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “With Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., God smiled on us and fortunately granted us two.”

“Coretta Scott King was one woman who shared a great dream and a great vision with an extraordinary man. This couple helped to awaken the conscience of a nation. It is this indomitable spirit that will continue to motivate those who strive for equal rights for all and fairness for all families,” said H. Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

“The death of Mrs. King, while it’s a sad day, we can celebrate the life she lived,” said Derek Barnett, board president of Cleveland’s BlackOut Unlimited. “One of the outstanding things about Mrs. King was that she recognized that all people, whether man or woman, black or white, gay or straight, were entitled to civil rights. We will certainly miss that.”

 

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