Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and a longtime activist for peace and racial equality, died in her sleep Monday night at the age of 78. Jewish leaders praised her as a leader in her own right who looked beyond the concerns of her own community, and who repeatedly demonstrated her support of the Jewish community and of Israel.
“It’s a great loss to the Jewish community,” said Mark Schneier, an Orthodox rabbi active in black-Jewish relations. Schneier recalled that in 1995, a time when black-Jewish relations were roiled by antisemitic remarks by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and lingering resentment toward Jesse Jackson, King left Atlanta on Martin Luther King Day Weekend — a rare practice for her — to speak to leaders of Jewish organizations in New York about the important historic bonds between blacks and Jews.
Coretta Scott King was already active in the civil rights movement when she met Martin Luther King Jr. in 1952. The pair married a year later. She worked with King throughout his career, both as a supportive wife and as an activist herself. After his death, she continued to speak out against war and racial and economic injustice, as well as for women’s rights.
A number of Jewish organizations issued statements mourning King’s death. The American Jewish Congress praised King for her “selfless solidarity with the Jewish community,” in particular her work to free Soviet Jewry and her support for the State of Israel. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said her “strong and passionate voice will be missed.”
King also received praise from the Muslim American Society. In a statement, the organization’s executive director, Mahdi Bray, said: “Her commitment to non-violence, peace and justice was exceeded only by her commitment to her family.”