She was born April 27, 1927, on her grandfather's farm in Heiberger, Ala., about 80 miles south of Montgomery. Her parents, Obadiah and Bernice Scott, grew cotton, and young Coretta hoed and harvested alongside the hired hands. Her father bragged that she was the best cotton picker in the family, capable of pulling in 200 pounds a day.
Obadiah supplemented the family income by hauling lumber for other people. He became the only black man in town to own a truck and eventually owned a sawmill. His success prompted some whites to stop him on the road and threaten him.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 16, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Coretta Scott King obituary -- An obituary of civil rights icon Coretta Scott King on Feb. 1 in Section A stated that Lorena Blanco, spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, said King had died Jan. 31. She died Jan. 30.
Both his house and his sawmill were destroyed in suspicious fires. The culprits were never found.
"I learned very early to live with fear for the people I loved. It was good training," King wrote in her 1969 memoir, "My Life With Martin Luther King Jr."
Each day, she and her sister, Edythe, walked three miles to a segregated elementary school outside town while white children rode to theirs in a bus; each day, the buses would "rattle past us in a cloud of dust or a spatter of mud," Coretta wrote, recalling her hurt and anger.
When she and her sister finished the lower grades, they went to nearby Marion to attend semiprivate Lincoln High School, founded for blacks by white missionaries after the Civil War. There Coretta learned to read music, play piano and sing classical works. To help with her expenses, she took a job in town as a domestic, working for a white woman who wanted her to use the back door and answer every command with "yes, ma'am." Bristling at these rules, Coretta quickly found herself out of work.
In 1943, Edythe became the first black student to enroll at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Coretta joined her in 1945 and became the first black at Antioch to major in elementary education.
One of the requirements for her major was to spend a year teaching in a public school, but the all-white faculty at the one in town would not accept her, even though some of their students were black. This rejection, Coretta recalled, made her "terribly disillusioned and upset." Finding no sympathy for her grievances, she resigned herself to teaching at the school on campus and channeled her frustrations into the Antioch chapter of the NAACP.
Then she met Paul Robeson, the famed baritone and activist, who heard her sing at a political event and urged her to pursue voice training. She shifted the focus of her studies to music and began to envision a career as an activist-artist such as Robeson.
In 1951, King won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She arrived with $15 in her pocket. When her money ran out, she survived on peanut butter and crackers until a school counselor helped her arrange to perform housework in exchange for her board.
In early 1952, a friend asked if she would be interested in meeting a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta who was studying for his doctorate at Boston University. She hesitated when she heard that the young man was a minister, fearing that he would be too pious and narrow-minded for her taste. But she agreed to a blind date.
When she first laid eyes on Martin Luther King Jr., she considered him short and unimpressive. But when he spoke, she said, "he grew in stature," revealing charisma, intelligence and moral passion. After an animated conversation about music, race, economic injustice and peace, Martin made his feelings known.
"So you can do something else besides sing? You've got a good mind also. You have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday," he told her.
Although nearly 25 and somewhat past the prime marrying age for women of the era, Coretta did not leap into romance: She had been disappointed in love before. She also knew marriage would spell the end of her plans for a singing career.
Nonetheless, she and the young doctoral student courted intensely over the next months. When she realized she was not the only object of his affections, she invited his other girlfriends to a surprise party for him -- and coolly eliminated them from contention.
"Coretta was all graciousness, thereby making it clear that she was in charge," Young, who was one of King's top lieutenants in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wrote in his 1996 memoir, "An Easy Burden." "It was a nonviolent way to deal with one's opposition that Martin couldn't help but respect."
Her resolve did not weaken in the face of fierce opposition from Martin's father. The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. was pressuring his son to choose a wife from within their own comfortably middle-class circle in Atlanta. But "Daddy King" ultimately gave Coretta his blessing and presided over the marriage ceremony in the garden of her parents' home in Alabama on June 19, 1953.