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    Living in Atlanta, one is struck by the ever-present history and legacy of the Civil Rights movement and its iconic figures. Especially so in the last few weeks. I recently noted in a post called Quiet Power – Henry Aaron and The Fight Against Injustice, how the Hall of Fame baseball player Henry Aaron – an Atlanta resident who died on January 22 – had quietly used his post-baseball fame and resources to support educational opportunities and other progressive causes for disadvantaged people in Atlanta. This past week, January 30 marked the 15th anniversary of the passing of another Atlanta civil rights leader – Coretta Scott King. She was the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose legacy is highlighted in a Federal holiday the third Monday of each January, and the anniversary of Ms. King’s passing comes just before February’s Black History Awareness Month.

    Coretta Scott King’s story

    Of course, much could be written about Ms. King. How she fostered her husband’s legacy and how we might not be celebrating that legacy if not for her decades of work after Dr. King’s death. How she raised their four children as a single mother in the national spotlight and as a target of hatred and death threats. But there is one story that tells us much about what we should know about Coretta Scott King.

    Coretta Scott King led a silent march after Dr. King’s death

    In the Spring of 1968, Martin Luther King had brought his support to the cause of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. These workers, who were mostly black, wanted run-down and unsafe garbage trucks to be taken out of service. This came after several deaths and serious injuries to workers and three years before the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) was created. They also asked for overtime pay when they were forced to work long into the night. These seem like very reasonable requests today. Safe equipment and overtime pay, right? But they were controversial asks coming from black Americans earning low wages doing dirty jobs in the South of 1968.

    Dr. King, the NAACP, and much of America knew that this was racially motivated mistreatment by the City of Memphis. While in Memphis, Dr. King was killed by a convicted felon and white supremacist on April 4, 1968. Just four days after her husband’s murder, a day before his funeral, and while his killer was still at large, Coretta Scott King returned to Memphis. She brought along two of her now-fatherless young children. She and her children led a 42,000-person silent march that day. One that wound its way through the streets of Memphis in a continued call for the non-violent resolution of disputes and to bring on-going attention to the plight of the sanitation workers and their asks for better working conditions and overtime pay.

    Later in that tumultuous month, the City and the sanitation workers did reach a deal that guaranteed better wages and better conditions. It took a strong, resilient, and brave widow and mother to lead that silent march. One committed to civil rights and social and economic justice even in the midst of unimaginable personal loss and grief.

    Coretta Scott King’s legacy is not forgotten

    Today, Ms. King’s legacy is naturally overshadowed by that of her iconic husband. But it is not forgotten. It’s just one more piece of the rich mosaic of Atlanta’s civil and voting rights history.

    February is Black History Month. It’s a good time to learn more about Coretta Scott King and her contributions to achieving a more just society. A good start would be to check out information about her legacy at The King Center at https://thekingcenter.org/

    About the Author

    Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

    Sources

    Keeping Coretta Scott King’s Legacy Alive…

    Ernie Suggs

    Atlanta Journal Constitution

    Jan 31, 2021

    https://www.ajc.com/news/keeping-coretta-scott-kings-legacy-alive-15-years-later/CPFS47JZ4FFCBBNZDNRZHSFG6U/

     

    The Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, Feb 12 to April 16, 1968

    Stanford University/ The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Center

    https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/memphis-sanitation-workers-strike

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