My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. Analysis

Coretta Scott

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. is more than Coretta Scott King’s autobiography, more even than the story of her marriage. In key respects, it is also a mirror of the African American experience in the twentieth century. In seventeen chapters, an epilogue, and several appendixes, Mrs. King surveys her background in Marion, Alabama, her education at Antioch College (Ohio), and her fifteen-year marriage that ended tragically with the assassination of her famous husband on April 4, 1968. In that sense, her book is personal and traditionally autobiographical. However, its perspective is national and even international with regard to the mission that she identifies throughout as the raison d’être of the couple’s public career.

Her account begins in October, 1964, when Martin Luther King, Jr., resting in a hospital, learns that he will receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. The Nobel Prize reception banquet in Oslo sets the tone for the book by establishing the moral foundations of the nonviolent movement, which the author interweaves with her personal story. King referred in Oslo to the “long road” that African Americans had traveled in their quest for equality.

From that imagery, Coretta Scott King drew the unifying theme of her autobiography. Not only had the road been long and hard for black Americans in general, and for Americans as a whole, but it had also been hard for her family as well. “No one who has not traveled it,” she reflected, “could possibly envision how very long it was.”

For her, it was a journey that began near Marion, Alabama, a rural setting that contrasted sharply with that of her husband’s middle-class urban upbringing in Atlanta. Whereas Coretta’s father, Obadiah (Obie) Scott, was a farmer, Martin’s was the pastor of the prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Both, as it turned out, were in Boston in the early 1950’s preparing for professions that at first seemed incompatible. Martin was preparing to be a church minister; Coretta dreamed of a career as a professional musician. After her graduation from Antioch College of Ohio, she was admitted to the New England Conservatory of Music, and Martin began his theological studies at Boston University. The last thing she was looking for in a husband, she admits, was a desire to be a preacher. As she met and fell in love with Martin, however, Coretta adjusted her plans and thus became linked with one of the most influential social movements in American history.

Vignettes and intimate glimpses of details otherwise not available make up much of My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. The first seven of its seventeen chapters deal with the journey to Oslo and the...

(The entire section is 1122 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Abernathy, Ralph David. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Ralph David Abernathy, An Autobiography. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Few people knew the Kings better than Ralph Abernathy, whose career in civil rights meshed with Martin’s from Montgomery in 1955 until the assassination in Memphis in 1968. Abernathy’s autobiography is thus essential, despite its subjective approach and questionable recollection on some matters.

Ansbro, John J. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1982. An intellectual history of Martin that complements Coretta’s more personal account. Ansbro reinforces her emphasis upon Martin’s morality based social reform theory. Ansbro’s is the best of the spiritual pilgrimage studies of Dr. King.

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986. Although thin as an analysis of King and the SCLC, Garrow’s account is essential because of its massive detail on the life of the famous civil rights leader. This Pulitzer Prize-winning journal of the King years was the first major work to expose King’s personal life to a candid critique.

King, Coretta Scott. “He Had a Dream.” Life 67 (September 12, 1969): 54-62. This compact, illustrated extract from the first edition offers a useful introduction to her historical biography.

Lewis, David Levering. King: A Biography. 2d ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978. The first critical biography of King, Lewis’ work is nevertheless both much milder in its analysis than recent studies and more valuable in clarifying the motives and goals of the nonviolent movement.

Peake, Thomas R. Keeping the Dream Alive: A History of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from King to the Nineteen-Eighties. New York: Lang, 1987. The first comprehensive history of the SCLC, this work also includes extensive material on King’s personal life, his relationship to the SCLC, and his theological perspective.