King Center CEO Inspirits Mother’s Legacy

Bernice King signs copy of Coretta Scott Kings Biography

Flashback to April 4, 1968, and you may still sense the deep dejection and overwhelming grief that permeated the African-American community on a day that will never be forgotten – the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. That tragic evening was also the same day that Edythe Scott Bagley, Coretta Scott King’s only sister, mailed off the manuscript for a book to be published about Coretta’s life. Dr. King’s untimely death deferred its publication and Coretta, in resolve to her calling, began writing “My Life with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Now, 44 years later, the youngest of the King children, Dr. Bernice A. King, is prepared to turn a new leaf on behalf of her mother’s legacy, in some way reciprocating Coretta’s endowments for Dr. King.

Since taking the helm of The King Center this past January, King has initiated the effort to continue her mother’s passion in institutionalizing Dr. King’s work while progressively bringing awareness to the gravity of Coretta’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement.

A milestone in King’s effort was helping her aunt Edythe, who passed away in 2011, complete and gain the publishing of Coretta’s life story. The book, “Desert Rose – The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King,” became available right before Mrs. King’s 85th birthday in April. It gives an account of Mrs. King’s life growing up in Alabama, her work in civil rights, and her blossoming music career. It also shares intimate, rare facts about Coretta’s private life including that Coretta was previously engaged before meeting Dr. King and once dated outside of her race.

In 2004, Coretta once again urged her sister to move forward with the book. Edythe eagerly accepted Coretta’s guidance, and after months of preparation and searching for a publisher, the book-publishing contract finally came to fruition. It was two weeks before Edythe passed away.

King disclosed that her aunt Edythe began writing the book in 1966 because Dr. King and Coretta “constantly lived under threats” and Coretta wanted her story told by someone she could trust. Joe Hilley, a New York Times bestselling author, also contributed to the book.

“This book is very important as a beginning stage of keeping her legacy alive at least from the vantage point of our family,” said King.  King also anticipates the book will further shed light on the level of support her mother gave her father during critical times of racial turmoil, which enabled Dr. King to focus on his work and “have peace of mind.”

“Even though as a woman, she wanted him home more, she understood. She made the adjustment,” said King. “She really was a life partner who stood with him and oftentimes it is said during the course of the movement that she herself had already devoted her heart to impacting the conditions of the South,” she said. “So my hope, when people put the book down, [is that] they would have a greater understanding if it were not for Coretta Scott King, it is very conceivable that we would not be remembering and celebrating the Dr. King that we remember and celebrate today.”

King, who has been traveling promoting the book in Alabama, Washington, D.C., and New York, announced that proceeds from book sales will go to The Coretta Scott King Foundation ( whose work centers on “preparing the next generation of legacy leaders through educational, health and wellness and cultural awareness initiatives.” The foundation is also creating a scholarship fund, targeted toward students who are the first in their families to attend college and students who are education and music majors, the same fields Coretta studied in college.

Arturo Bagley, Edythe’s only son, who spoke at the Atlanta book signing for Desert Rose, said that the book launch was a “bittersweet” day for him, since his mother didn’t live to see it.  “The publication of the book is the culmination of her dream and it’s so important. Nothing is a given in this world. There is no guarantee that we’re going to make progress. Everything we get, we have to struggle for and part of that struggle is in knowing our history.”

In leading The King Center, King was a tad shy about the idea that she is walking in her mother’s footsteps. Mrs. Coretta Scott King served as CEO of the King Center more than 25 years and persevered despite others telling her to “stay home and raise her kids.”



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