Meeting Coretta Scott King during my two-year residency in Atlanta was beyond a dream come true. After all, she was the widow of my favorite historical figure, the anointed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and pastor who was the world’s greatest humanitarian and freedom fighter.
Dr. King was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He led the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968, and was the son of early civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Sr. In addition to the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January, it’s primarily this time each year, a part of African American/Black History Month, that we honor King along with other trail blazing African Americans for their contributions to America’s history.
Americans have officially observed African American History Month for some 46 years since the United State government declared February for this time of observance, in 1976, although it was the brainchild of author historian Carter G. Woodson, as early as 1915, and was first named Negro History Week, in 1926.
I was on assignment when I met Mrs. King, in my role of public affairs director. I attended the meeting to inform what my employer would contribute to the upcoming King Day celebration. When I received the assignment, I was pleased to return to the King Center which I had visited once before. According to its position statement, The King Center, “In accordance with Dr. King’s nonviolent philosophy and methodology (Nonviolence 365®), we provide education and training, support advocacy, formulate policy and foster research.”
Miraculously, moments later I was face to face with this pioneer woman [Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr.,] who promoted nonviolence and the dream of the beloved community her late husband died for—throughout the world.
I never would have guessed that King’s widow would participate in the meeting, but my eyes brightened and my smile widened the moment I saw her signature shoulder length black hair worn brushed back from her forehead in her iconic wavy style. She was as beautiful as all of the pictures and recordings I had seen, and graceful.
Even after I saw her, still a bit star struck along with being in shock, I didn’t expect to interact with her. Miraculously, moments later I was face to face with this pioneer woman who promoted nonviolence and the dream of the beloved community her late husband died for—throughout the world. She led goodwill missions to countries in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and was a musician and best-selling author.
The King Center representative who initially welcomed me that day introduced us, and Mrs. King smiled gently and took my ready-to-shake-her-hand right hand between both of her hands and greeted me. I managed to maintain my composure although my insides were rumbling with nervousness. After all, this was the woman who was married to THE Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who, following his Christian beliefs and the teachings of Indian social activist Mahatma Gandhi, was the most influential person of our times.
She was smiling at me as if I were a treasured daughter come home for Christmas. She was as lovely and genteel as I could have expected, and I felt as though I saw her soul through her strong, sad eyes.
She was the woman who birthed four children with him and advanced Dr. King’s civil rights work until her death in 2006. She was smiling at me as if I were a treasured daughter come home for Christmas. She was as lovely and genteel as I could have expected, and I felt as though I saw her soul through her strong, sad eyes. It was clear that she carried the weight of her husband’s grand legacy on her shoulders while creating an impressive personal legacy.
Mrs. King’s warm greeting reminded me that my hero was more than the freedom fighting extraordinary orator who shepherded hundreds of thousands of supporters to the US Capitol to promote equality. I honed in on his role as a beloved husband and father, and my love and appreciation for him increased. Although I had met and worked with their oldest son for a brief period—and I have the picture to prove it—nothing compared to meeting Dr. King’s wife, and now my plate nearly overflowed.
I managed to focus on my official duties once the meeting started, and didn’t even rush to call my parents as usual, to tell them about an exceptional experience; I privately relished the experience for a day or two, then told my family.
I forgot about this meeting for years, and haven’t even shared it with my beloved with whom I’ll celebrate 15 years of oneness, marriage, next week. However, with the country laser-focused on the contributions of African Americans this month, while thinking about Dr. King, I thought about his widow and recalled our meeting.
My time with Mrs. King was informative and helped me know more about the saint she had married and emphasized the magnitude of her distinct greatness and compassion, all which I will share with others and try to replicate. If I were not such a fan and follower of King, my Coretta King meeting would not have meant as much as it did, but I keep pictures of Dr. King in my home, display and share his quotes most days. His exemplary work, based on Christian beliefs, inspire me. He is my American idol.
The time is always right to do what is right.
During my Black History Month presentation, Poets & Pulitzers, the first week in February, I shared my favorite Dr. King quote: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
I was blessed last summer to be invited to be the featured speaker for an educator’s association 2021 Black History Month session. (I use Black and African American interchangeably and consider them synonymous.) Poets & Pulitzers highlighted the contributions of several African Americans, but just a little about King.
I shared with the audience—most who were educators—that I used to get upset during African American History Month, because Dr. King was often the only person lauded by mainstream media. I knew there were many African Americans who warranted recognition. However, over time I realized that Dr. King deserves every accolade he receives because his life’s work is unparalleled.
The civil rights progress that he led for Blacks especially, and all mankind, have made the greatest impact on our nation than anyone else’s, so he is worthy of constant praise. Nonetheless, we celebrated others well known and relatively unknown, during Poets & Pulitzers, namely writers from various genre and Pulitzer Prize winners.
This included the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, Gwendolyn Brooks (June 07, 1917 – December 03, 2000). A prolific writer, Brooks won the award for poetry in 1950 for her 1949 book Annie Allen which chronicled in verse the life of a black girl growing up on the south side of Chicago.
Brooks’ writings were entertaining, and readers could easily relate to them. She credited her success to practice and her love of the craft. She said that she wrote “to prove to others (by implication, not by shouting) and to such among themselves who have yet to discover it, that they are merely human beings, not “exotics”. She wrote while “scrubbing, washing, ironing, cooking: dropping the mop, broom, soap, iron or carrot grater to write down a line or word.” Brooks wrote sonnets and ballads along with free verse.
Another brilliant pioneer honored in Poets & Pulitzers was Rita Dove, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Similar to Brooks, Dove says that to succeed in writing you must write often and love writing.
We viewed one of Dove’s handwritten notes that read, “Love reading first & the poetry will find its place…Then write, & love the work of writing.”
Dove was the US Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995. Following Dove’s footsteps is another poet laureate. Newcomer Amanda Gorman is the first US Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest person to participate in the inauguration of a US president.
Gorman won high acclaim from millions with her soul stirring poem The Hill We Climb which she performed in January for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration. The Hill We Climb will be published in book form and has already become a best seller based on pre-sells.
A secondary theme of Poets & Pulitzers was love, since February is the month of love, when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. To revel in love for a few minutes, the presentation included readings of Brooks’ heartfelt poem To Be in Love and Dove’s poem—Heart to Heart—which masterfully synthesizes truths about our emotional and physical heart.
Adding to its sub-theme of love, Poets & Pulitzers ended with readings from the ultimate book of love and bestselling book in the world, the Holy Bible—mostly from the book of romance, Song of Solomon, written by an unknown writer.
Biblical readings included:
- Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. (Sol 1:2)
- I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. (Sol 3:2)
- I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies. (Sol. 6:3)
Throughout February we will share excerpts from Poets & Pulitzers which feature more notable African Americans, including multi-award-winning gospel artists Kirk Franklin and the Hawkins brothers Walter and Edwin, Composer George Walker, writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, and others.
Heart to Heart by Rita Dove
It is neither red
It doesn’t melt
Or turn over,
Break or harden,
So it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
A tip to spin on,
It isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want–
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,