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Thinking about Coretta.

It was Martin Luther King Day yesterday, a day that has become a special day in our lives in the years since we moved to the US nearly 8 years ago.  Its with a particular poignancy that I reflect on a man and the movement that blazed a humble trail toward racial equality and integration in the US.  They suffered greatly, beatings, verbal abuse, injustice upon injustice, death. I think of our family; shades of ebony, caramel and peachy tan. Warm rich colors that blend and be and belong in our community. Our park blossoms in colors and cultures.  Our school mom prayer meetings are infused with a range of cultures, Korean, Taiwanese, Mexican, me. We walk the streets and play with ease and freedom because men and women of every color fought for  carefree fun-filled afternoons like ours.

This year the person I thought of most was Coretta Scott King. Coretta was the wife of Dr. King, mother of their four children, an accomplished musician and fully engaged civil rights activist before she met and married King. I wondered at the price she paid, the endless sacrifices for the sake of the movement. The demands and the energy this movement required. Yes it would change the course of history, but what did that mean for her in the every day? Threats and the fears for her own family, the responsibility she may have felt  for others? What was  it like to watch her man loved and honored, or vilified and  abused? King’s biographers have written of King’s weaknesses & rumored infidelities. Like so many heroes, Martin Luther King was flawed. What would it have been like for Coretta to walk alongside her man, the hero, her man, so flawed? What did it cost her daily, to walk in forgiveness and love? Then when widowed at only 41, she raised a family and she led a grieving movement forward. She served for the rest of her life.

King wrote of Coretta in his autobiography:

My devoted wife has been a constant source of consolation to me through all the difficulties. In the midst of the most tragic experiences, she never became panicky or overemotional. I have come to see the real meaning of that rather trite statement: a wife can either make or break a husband. My wife was always stronger than I was through the struggle. While she had certain natural fears and anxieties concerning my welfare, she never allowed them to hamper my active participation in the movement. Corrie proved to be that type of wife with qualities to make a husband when he could have been so easily broken. In the darkest moments, she always brought the light of hope. I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength, and calmness of Corrie, I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding the movement.She saw the greatness of the movement and had a unique willingness to sacrifice herself for its continuation. If I have done anything in this struggle, it is because I have had behind me and at my side a devoted, understanding, dedicated, patient companion in the person of my wife. I can remember times when I sent her away for safety. I would look up a few days later, and she was back home, because she wanted to be there.

We can only imagine  the depth  with which he wrote behind those words. Sometimes the heroes are the ones in the shadows.

So yesterday and today, I’ve been thinking about Coretta. I couldn’t possibly know her full story or where complex reality meets legendary stories. Still, she’s made me think about the strength that lies within a woman, that well of deep resource that helps a woman endure, the roots that undergird a woman’s life.



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