There wouldn’t be a Martin Luther King Day without Coretta Scott King. 

That’s not only because the wife of the late civil rights legend led the initiative to have King’s birthday recognized as a national holiday — a feat that took over 15 years of campaigning and culminated in a historic bill signing by Ronald Reagan on Nov. 2, 1983 — but also because Coretta Scott King was instrumental in establishing much of the King legacy as we know it today.

On MLK Day 2021, the Kings’ youngest daughter, Dr. Bernice King, a minister, took to Twitter to remind her followers of the role her mother played in supporting her father’s legacy, marching alongside him and collaborating with many of the most prolific civil rights activists of the 1960s. 

“As you honor my father today, please honor my mother, as well,” the activist wrote. “She was the architect of the King Legacy and founder of the The King Center, which she founded less than three months after Daddy died. Without Coretta Scott King, there would be no MLK Day.” 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (which is also hosting a commemorative service today you can stream on YouTube) anchors Coretta Scott King’s lifelong efforts to secure equality for Black Americans through a philosophy of peaceful civil disobedience. 

During the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta Scott King joined her husband in spearheading efforts like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and independently offered pivotal leadership for anti-war groups like Women Strike for Peace. A classically trained vocalist, Coretta Scott King also led a national singing tour of Freedom Concerts to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization founded by her husband which coordinated the famous March on Washington.

Before her husband’s assassination, Coretta Scott King was widely regarded as the greatest source of spiritual strength for Martin Luther King Jr. — offering what many who knew her described as unparalleled wisdom and patience, even as her family faced violent threats. Most famously, the King family home in Montgomery, Alabama was bombed by white supremacists in 1956.

“My wife was always stronger than I was through the struggle,” King wrote in his posthumously published 1998 autobiography (h/t NBC News). “While she had certain natural fears and anxieties concerning my welfare, she never allowed them to hamper my active participation in the movement…In the darkest moments, she always brought the light of hope. I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength, and calmness of Corrie, I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding the movement.”

After King’s death, Coretta Scott King continued to advocate for equality across the globe — fighting for LGBTQ Americans during the AIDS epidemic and Black South Africans during the horrors of Apartheid. The late activist also formed the Full Employment Action Council and the National Committee for Full Employment, both efforts to end unemployment in the United States. 

Coretta Scott King died in 2006, but is survived by three of her four children, Martin Luther King III Dexter King, and Bernice King. (Yolanda King, the Kings’ first-born daughter died shortly after her mother in 2007.) Much of Coretta Scott King’s legacy remains preserved in the archives of The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, but The Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom at Antioch College in Ohio is specifically dedicated to her legacy. A memorial dedicated to both Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, designed to resemble their intertwined hands and titled “The Embrace,” can be seen in Boston

“Today is not merely a holiday, but a true holy day which honors the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in the best possible way,” Coretta Scott King is credited with having once said of MLK day. 

“I love that #CorettaScottKing is trending on #MLKDay,” Bernice King added, after her initial tweet pivoted the online celebration of MLK day towards her mother — a true legend in her own right. 

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