Emory Report
February 13, 2006
Volume 58, Number 19


Emory Report homepage  

February 13, 2006
Emory memorial pays tribute to King

BY Alfred Charles

Mourners in Atlanta and across the nation have mourned the loss of Coretta Scott King since her death Jan. 30.

During a memorial gathering Feb. 6 in Cannon Chapel, faculty, staff and students took time out to recall the life of the woman known as the matriarch of the civil rights movement.

She was extremely gentle and extremely generous,” said Noel Erskine, associate professor of theology and ethics. King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., died Jan. 30 at an alternative health care center in Mexico. Doctors have said that she suffered from advanced ovarian cancer, a disease that she was battling in addition to her ongoing recovery from a recent stroke
and heart attack.

Since the death of King, 78, there has been an outpouring of emotion, grief and sorrow across the city, nation and on Emory’s campus.

The King family’s ties to Emory are strong and deep. The Kings’ youngest daughter, Bernice, received her law and divinity degrees from Emory.

And as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, documents produced by the late civil rights leader were published, beginning in 1992, by Emory staffers as part of a comprehensive effort to shed light on his life.

Perhaps the strongest association between the Kings and Emory occurred in 1979 and 1980 when Coretta King lectured to Emory students during Erskine’s course, “The Theology of Martin Luther King,” about the religious impact her husband’s teaching had on the nation and the world.

She didn’t differentiate his dream from her dream,” Erskine said. “She saw King’s dream as our dream.”

Years after King’s stint on campus, Erskine published a book, King Among the Theologians, which was rooted in Coretta’s classroom teachings.

Although King had always taken an active public role since her husband’s assassination in 1968, she rarely gave interviews or spoke to news reporters. To much of the public, she was an enigmatic figure who valued her privacy.

When she spent time on the Emory campus, Erskine recalls a woman who was open, giving and warm hearted. He said she had regular meetings with other faculty members and was “extraordinary with her time.”

She was very relaxed with the students,” he said. “We got to see the human side of her.”

Erskine shared his memories of King during the memorial tribute to her, which was held on a damp, chilly Monday night. About 65 people attended the event, which included prayer, scripture and song.

Erskine told the group that King would spend much of the afternoon on campus during the lectures. Her aim was to provide insight into the teachings of her husband, who steered the civil rights bus through a turbulent time.

Erskine recalled King telling Emory students during her lectures that there were only two stops on the road to freedom: love and freedom.

She said, ‘Love your enemies and bless those that curse you,’” Erskine said.