Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Coretta Scott King, the wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., has died. She was 78.

"We appreciate the prayers and condolences from people across the country," the King family said in a statement. Her death was announced by her friend Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta. Mrs. King had suffered a serious stroke and heart attack in 2005.

Coretta Scott was studying voice at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music and planning on a singing career when she met her future husband. They married in 1953 and had four children: Yolanda Denise, Martin III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice Albertine.

After her husband's assassination in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, she continued his work for social justice and devoted her life to his legacy, establishing the King Center in Atlanta and working for decades for a federal holiday in his honor.

King became a symbol, in her own right, of her husband's struggle for peace and brotherhood, presiding with a quiet, steady, stoic presence over seminars and conferences on global issues.

"I'm more determined than ever that my husband's dream will become a reality," King said soon after his slaying, a demonstration of the strong will that lay beneath the placid calm and dignity of her character.

In 1969, she founded the multimillion-dollar Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. King saw to it that the center became deeply involved with the issues that she said breed violence -- hunger, unemployment, voting rights and racism.

"The center enables us to go out and struggle against the evils in our society," she often said.

In recent years, King spoke out against racial profiling, mandatory minimum sentences and attacks on affirmative action.

She became increasingly critical of businesses such as film and television companies, video arcades, gun manufacturers and toy makers she accused of promoting violence. She called for regulation of their advertising.

"In this country, we vigorously regulate the sale of medicine and severely limit the advertising of cigarettes because of their effect on human health," she said Jan. 15, 1994, the 65th anniversary of her husband's birth. "But we allow virtually anyone in America to buy a gun and virtually everyone in the nation to see graphic violence."

King received numerous honors for herself and traveled around the world in the process.

Due to poor health, King missed the annual King holiday celebration in Atlanta earlier this month, but she did appear with her children at an awards dinner a couple of days earlier, smiling from her wheelchair but not speaking. The crowd gave her a standing ovation.

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