Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Rest in Peace

I have been trying to think of what to say about the passing of Coretta Scott King. I'm mostly still processing; I'm sure I'll have much more to say later, but I've been learning a few things. First, I have always focused on how difficult it must have been to be the spouse of someone who gave his life to a cause, but since her death I have learned that she was an activist when she and Martin Luther King met. I'd heard her say that she married a vision, not a man, but before King's death, I'd always imagined that the idea was simply that she knew she was marrying an activist. What I've been sitting with this week is the challenge of recognizing what activism looks like when one is speaking / acting from the position of black lady (or perhaps colored lady). I've been thinking about this question in the context of my own creative work, but it is hitting me differently when I rethink King's life in the context of her own intentions, rather than in the context of her husband's work. Even the writing of this post requires me to think about the politics of engaging with the lady as a political figure. Do I call her Mrs. in the title of this post? Isn't that what she went by? Didn't I call Paik Mr.? Is Mrs. equal to Mr. in this case? Why does it seem strange to call her by her last name only? What will it mean to resist the feeling that people will think I'm talking about Martin Luther King everytime I write "King" and don't preface it with Mrs.? Is it solipsistic to think of myself as I act these questions? I'll keep thinking about these questions. In the meantime, King, rest in peace.

“I’m more determined than ever that my husband’s dream will become a reality.”
-- Coretta Scott King, after the death of Martin Luther King


Blogger John K said...

Mendi, such excellent questions. I also think about how during her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr., there was tension because she didn't only want to be a wife, mother and helpmate, but wanted to participate as an activist as opposed to only giving moral and emotional support. After her husband's tragic assassination, she could have withdrawn from the public eye and sphere, but instead she chose to actively promote his causes, and some that she championed, such as equality for LGBT people. Part of her power came from what you describe--being a Black "lady," a widow, a mother; the respect and social and political capital that accrued to that social position was and is tremendous, and what I always admired is that she was willing to use it, not for her own social and economic gains (as her son has), but for certain tangible public goods (in the general sense of "good").

11:31 AM, February 07, 2006  
Anonymous audiologo said...

Mendi, I agree with John, astute questions. Yesterday when I was teaching, after I called for a moment of silence, I asked my students about what it meant that in the comments by her civil rights peers following her death that she was constantly referred to as "elegant" and "graceful". What would it have meant if she had remarried, or been more aggressive, less a "lady"? Here in the ATL she is called "the Lady" (I have to remember that doesn't mean Lady Day) and "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement". I too appreciate her deployment of that studied grace on behalf of a number of social justice causes, including LGBT civil rights. Fred Phelps threatened his usual protest of public figures who supported LGBT rights, but I have yet to hear anything about his presence.

11:18 PM, February 07, 2006  
Blogger nolapoet said...

What I found interesting was also the repeated refernce to Mrs. King as a "Southern lady" and a "steel magnolia." For me, the imagery associated with such is usually white Southern women. It seems a poor substitute for the combination of determination and grace that Mrs. King embodied.

She was also a super-smart headstrong woman and single mother who founded and ran a multimillion-dollar and world-renowned think tank. Had she lived in New York instead of Atlanta, would folks have leaned as heavily on her role as a wife? I don't know.

The funeral covered all the bases pretty well, I think. But I believe that she herself will become a metaphor for those who follow her and/or try to come near the high mark she set for all of us.

1:26 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

Thanks for all of your thoughts on these ideas. I really admire her work and her strategic use of the way people saw her. I am troubled, however, by the extent to which it has been difficult for me to see her. In the case of Rosa Parks, the focus on her being tired obscures her intention to resist the bad policy. In the case of Coretta Scott King, however, it has been so much harder to see her intention because there is another person we can see between her life and her actions. As someone who works closely with her husband, it disturbs me that this is difficult even for me.

3:35 PM, February 10, 2006  

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