Just as Dr. King was called to this work, so was Coretta. History has put her in boxes that keep her narrative set somewhere behind Martin’s but no, not here, not today. She is not just the wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was the movement.

00:00 – Welcome & Intro

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00:32 – Intro Music

01:12 – Honoring Coretta while Remembering Martin

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Family, this is your favorite Queer radio personality Anna DeShawn here with a special edition of our Queer news podcast. 

Today is the day set aside to remember the life & legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To this day when I hear his voice & listen to his speeches I get chills. Even more so now as an adult as I have an even greater understanding of the enormous sacrifice that was made. It is with that sacrifice in mind that I wanted to drop this special edition titled Honoring Coretta while remembering Martin. Throughout this episode I’m going to talk about her life before Martin, with Martin, and after Martin. I will share audio clips of Mrs. King herself because we don’t hear her voice enough. She was her own woman and I contend his legacy wouldn’t be what it is today without her being who she always was, a fierce unstoppable force. 

Family, we know Dr. King was a scholar, a preacher, and a good troublemaker. His beliefs have been watered down to a few select moments in time but to study the arch of his work is to know that he was challenging far more than jim crow. He stood in opposition to war. He stood in opposition to capitalism. Do you? If Dr. King was alive today, would you support him? Well the arch and expansiveness of his beliefs did not occur by happenstance. Mrs. King was one of the only civil rights leaders of our time who truly believed in radical inclusiveness. Her belief system didn’t form after she met Martin; she was clear long before then that the world needed to change. 

Born in Marion, Alabama her parents were entrepreneurs who disrupted the status quo of what white folks thought their place was supposed to be in the world. Because of that as a teenager her family home and their sawmill business was burned to the ground by white supremacist. She was very keenly aware of the vile hate that existed in the world and wanted to be part of the change. While studying music at Antioch college she became politically active with the NAACP, civil liberties committees & various peace movements. Dr. King wrote in his autobiography, “She talked about things other than music. I never will forget, the first discussion we had was about the question of racial and economic injustice and the question of peace. She had been actively engaged in movements dealing with these problems. After an hour, my mind was made up. I said, “So you can do something else besides sing? You’ve got a good mind also. You have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday.” I didn’t want a wife I couldn’t communicate with. I had to have a wife who would be as dedicated as I was. I wish I could say that I led her down this path, but I must say we went down it together because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now”.

Bayard Rustin who was the architect of so much of the work was friends with Mrs. King before he ever met Dr. King. She brought him into their lives and we can be sure that much of what we know today as the civil rights movement wouldn’t have been what it was without Bayard. No matter how many of the preachers didn’t want him there because he was gay. Mrs. King had the ear of the one person who could truly make the final decision and Bayard wasn’t going anywhere. Her radical inclusiveness was unheard of in the circles she kept and even within her own family. She was focused on getting Black folks to examine their homophobia. She would call out Black pastors and hold them accountable. I quote, “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others”. Amen. Take a listen to a couple of speeches she gave on this very subject.

Do ya’ll see what I mean? For history will lead you to believe that Mrs. King was just sitting at home, raising their four children and being a quiet dutiful Christian wife. Now raising their four children, yes, they were her top priority but she was far from quiet and dutiful. It’s said that she actually crossed out “obey” from their marriage vows because she wasn’t having that. She never stopped singing and began hosting Freedom Concerts to raise money for the movement. She would sing classical songs, traditional spirituals, and speak to the world she would help create. Take a listen to Mrs. King sing. She had a beautiful voice and was on the road to being a mezzo-soprano phenomenon until she met Martin. I will say she was very clear that her place was beside her husband not behind. Oftentimes when Dr. King couldn’t make an engagement he would call on Mrs. King to speak in his place. When they marched together she was never behind him was she. She was right there putting her life on the line right next to him. 

And we know on April 4th, his life was taken and it quite literally shook the world. It was a moment where anyone who was alive could tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news. They can tell you how they felt. Well today we know even more of the story. We know that the day before he was exhausted. He’d been traveling, marching, meeting, receiving countless death threats, and didn’t want to give that now infamous speech in Memphis. Ya’ll know the one. Let me play it for you. Whew allow me to let those chills roll off my arms for a second. He could feel death was near. Well did you know that a couple days after his assassination Mrs. King decided to go to Memphis. Before Dr. King’s services, she decided in the midst of her grief to stand in for her husband as she’d done so many times before and lead the Sanitation workers silent march. It’s documented that 42,000 people attended and hear what she had to say. 

It wasn’t a month later that she attended the Central Park peace rally. They weren’t expecting her to speak but when she did this is what she said, “…the work of peacemaking must continue until the last gun is silent. I come to you in my grief only because you keep alive the work and dreams for which my husband gave his life. My husband derived so much of his strength and inspiration from the love of people who shared his dream, that I too now come hoping you might strengthen me for the lonely road ahead.” 

Now hear two excerpts from Mrs. King. First, a speech she gave at Harvard in 1968 just months after Dr. King’s assassination and shortly after Robert Kennedy’s. Following that excerpt is another from the Solidarity Day rally in 1968 where she talks about the various types of violence and how they show up in the world. Take a listen.

You heard what she said about the police right. Okay just making sure. I decided to honor Coretta while remembering Martin because she carried his legacy on her shoulders for the rest of her life. She spoke, she traveled, she was criticized for not taking stronger political stances. She made this day possible to ensure that her husband’s legacy would not die. She made sure there was a King center to ensure she was able to tell the story and educate others. Just as Dr. King was called to this work, so was Coretta. History has put her in boxes that keep her narrative set somewhere behind Martin’s but no, not here, not today. She is not just the wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was the movement. 

Thank you Mrs. King for your sacrifice. For you radical inclusiveness. For seeing, loving, and embracing people just like me. Till tomorrow family, peace. 


Martin Luther King Jr., Homosexuality, and the Early Gay Rights Movement: Keeping the Dream Straight? 1st ed. 2012 Edition

by Michael G. Long (Author), Desmond Tutu (Author)

CNP Summit 2021 – Influencing a King: Bayard Rustin & Coretta Scott King’s LGBTQ+ Activism 


First Christmas without him. Inside MLK’s home in 1968


Am A Man” Dr. King and The Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike Man” Dr. King and The Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike


Stanford | The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute 

Chapter 5: Coretta


The Life of Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King – Made By Her: Monumental Women | Hulu

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