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LAce Posted Monday, February 20th, 2006
Fertile Times
Allen Spalt

The death of Coretta Scott King brought into stark focus for me the ferment of the times that gave birth to her life's work, and to other seminal social change movements: civil rights, feminism and environmentalism.

The leading figure of the civil rights movement is Martin Luther King, Jr. We might not see him as we do if it were not for the efforts of his widow, Coretta Scott King. She was — as he admitted — already devoted to their common cause when they met. She supported his efforts and then continued to work tirelessly after his death. She advocated for the King Holiday, without which we might not have the focus on the movement or the person. She also took up, personalized and expanded his struggles for civil rights, social justice and peace around the world. Her causes were poverty, social justice and peace. Her strategy was non-violence. The applications of that strategy have ranged from Soweto to Iraq, from Katrina to HIV/AIDS and gay rights. For her, equal marriage, equality and justice for gay couples was a logical extension of civil rights, of basic human rights.

As was said at her homegoing ceremony recently in Atlanta, she, like her husband before her, did not choose her battles on the basis of whether they might be won, but rather on whether they should be fought.

It is striking to me that just months ago we lost Rosa Parks, the catalyst of the Montgomery bus boycott that catapulted MLK to the fore. Parks was involved in the struggle for years before she refused to give up her seat on the bus. She continued to work for social justice until she died at age 88. I was honored to meet her in 1990 while she was in my hometown of Carrboro, North Carolina meeting with staff of the Christic Institute South as they cooperated on racial justice projects.

It might seem a stretch to relate these losses to the recent death of Betty Friedan. She was a mother of the modern women's liberation movement, born in Illinois, a world away from Coretta's rural Alabama. But Coretta, I have learned, insisted that the phrase requiring woman’s obedience be removed from her wedding vows. She did this in 1953 in a southern Baptist church, in a ceremony performed by her husband's father. Coretta Scott King was way ahead of her time, a sister of Betty Friedan, and breathing the same air of ferment.

At Friedan's death, I was reminded that her groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique, appeared in 1963, only one year after another catalyst for upheaval, Rachel Carson, published Silent Spring in 1962. Rachel Carson and Silent Spring sparked the modern environmental movement. Carson's life was tragically cut short by breast cancer; she died at the age of 57 in 1964. She didn't live into her 70's and 80's like Coretta and Rosa and Betty, but, like them, the movement she birthed outlives her.

Awesome women, all. As another awesome woman, Margaret Mead, said in what has now become a cliché, though no less true for that, "Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has."

Coretta Scott King (1927 - 2006)
Betty Friedan, 1921 - 2006
Rosa Parks (1913 - 2005)
Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)
Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978)

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Nonnie Augustine on Monday, February 20th, 2006 at 4:46 PM
Two thumbs up! One for the writer, and one for the publisher. Nonnie Augustine

Posted by maggie shurtleff [ ] on Sunday, March 5th, 2006 at 11:28 PM
Allen- poignant. This piece celebrates not only the diversity in which these women respected but also the commonality in which they promoted. You skillfully shared the legacy these women gave to us all... and they're work, words, actions will always be remembered; never forgotten. thank you for this.

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