day that he holds the Presidency, Donald Trump does something
outrageous. He blusters, he just plain lies, and he bullies. He
pushes his decisions, his executive orders, down the throats of a
Congress that he dominates. Why not let the democratic process work
and let them vote to build a wall and pay for it, instead of
insisting, by executive order, that the wall will be built. In just
one short week as President, he has demeaned our democracy and our
voters, caused international turmoil, and more. But he is doing
exactly what he said he would do.
been here before. Remember Ronald Reagan, the President who cut
school lunches and declared ketchup a vegetable? Remember warmonger
George W. Bush? Remember Richard Nixon and his coldness toward
Coretta Scott King? Remember history!
Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds offers us the opportunity to remember
history in the Coretta Scott King memoir, My Life, My Love, My Legacy. Reynolds took copious notes and made extensive recordings in
the decades that she worked and travelled with Coretta King, and she
has turned them into a memoir. Completed in 2007, it has taken a
decade for the book to be published, largely because of complications
with the King estate. But Reynolds chooses not to talk about the
complications, instead choosing to talk about the many ways her life
was enriched and enhanced by her association with Mrs. King. She
also chooses to illuminate the leadership roles that Mrs. King
embraced, both while her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was
living, and after his death.
book is a great and inspirational read, especially now, when so many
have despaired at the irrational-seeming leadership of Donald Trump.
It is a reminder that it took 15 years of persistence to establish
the King holiday that we now all take for granted. It is easy to
forget that Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the King
Holiday legislation in 1968, just days after Dr. King’s
assassination. He introduced it again and again, year after year.
According to Coretta King, the bill was rejected more than seventy
times. But she, and Conyers, persisted in their efforts to create a
national holiday. Coretta King met with the reformed segregationist
Senator Robert Byrd. She says she would have been “anxious”
to meet with a man who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, but
was assured that his views had changed. Indeed, Byrd supported the
effort to establish the King holiday, but through a rules change, a
two-thirds vote was needed to establish a holiday instead of a simple
majority. In 1979, the bill lost by a mere five votes.
continued after this loss. A petition drive yielded six million
signatures. Stevie Wonder released his Happy Birthday song that
advocated for a King holiday. Senator Jesse Helms opposed the
holiday, introducing a 300-page document that detailed King’s
“Communist activities”. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
was so outraged by the document that he threw it to the ground,
describing it as a “packet of filth”. On October 19,
1983, the Senate passed King holiday legislation 78-22, following a
House vote of 338-90. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into
law on November 3, 1983, establishing the King holiday on the third
Monday of January, beginning in 1986. Of course, some states dragged
their feet. Arizona did not acknowledge the holiday until the NFL
moved a Super Bowl in protest in 1992. South Carolina waited until
2000 to acknowledge the holiday.
often see Coretta Scott King as a stoic, dignified lady, and a
graceful partner to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. This
memoir shows her from another perspective, as a leader in her own
right, as a dedicated pacifist, as a persistent adherent to
principles of nonviolence, as a gritty fighter for her husband’s
legacy through the holiday and the establishment of the King Center.
We also see her as a mother, and can read her assessment of her
children, their strengths and their challenges. While I had the
privilege to be in Mrs. King’s company on many occasions, and
to speak with her personally and at length more than once, this book
adds a depth to my knowledge of her and makes me wish I’d had
the opportunity to know the side of her that laughed with Betty
Shabazz and Myrlie Evers (I laughed with both of those women, but
never Coretta), enjoyed opera, and let her hair down.
we attempt to develop the “fight back” plan for the
outrageousness of the Trump presidency, it is useful to consider the
women on whose shoulders we stand – Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B.
Wells, Shirley Chisholm and so many others. And it is useful to
remember the grit and grace of Coretta Scott King, the power and
passion in her persistence. For me, this book put steel in my
spine. The Trump years will be a long four years, but imagine
waiting 17 years to establish a King holiday that is now so widely