Monument to Coretta Scott King Unveiled in Atlanta

Located at the King Center, the new memorial honors a legacy that’s often overlooked

A view of the Coretta Scott King Peace and Meditation Garden and Monument on April 27, which would have been the civil rights leader's 96th birthday Paras Griffin / Getty Images

While her legacy is often overshadowed by her husband’s, Coretta Scott King was a civil rights icon in her own right. Now, a new monument at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta pays tribute to her work. 

The Coretta Scott King Monument and Peace and Meditation Garden was officially unveiled on April 27—which would have been King’s 96th birthday.

“Today’s dedication of this monument is but a beginning,” said Bernice King, the Kings’ daughter and CEO of the King Center, according to Kate Brumback of the Associated Press (AP). “There’s much more to come, and when her legacy is fully revealed, we will know that because of her, because of Mom, because of Coretta Scott King, the dream lives and the legacy continues.”

Coretta headshot
A photo of Coretta Scott King taken by Herman Hiller for the New York World-Telegram & Sun Public domain

The new monument features a sculpture of a podium with microphones, a nod to King’s powerful public speaking, placed in the center of a mosaic of a rose. The site is designed to be a space for meditation and reflection. “It’s an immersive environment,” Saya Woolfalk, who created the monument, tells the AP. “It’s intended to make you feel like you’re in the spirit of Mrs. King.”

One of the microphones is live, allowing visitors “to speak their own words and commitments to civil rights and nonviolence,” she adds. 

Born in Marion, Alabama, in 1927, King was a talented singer who initially hoped to build a career in music. In the early 1950s, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. That’s where she met Martin Luther King Jr., who was studying theology at Boston University.

“At first, she was resistant to the relationship because she thought her ultimate calling was to pursue a singing career, not to be a preacher's wife,” writes Katie Buzard of Illinois Public Media

Despite her hesitations, the two married in 1953. While she didn’t pursue singing professionally, she did integrate music into her civil rights activism. Together, she and her husband were instrumental in championing nonviolent protests. (A new monument to the couple opened in Boston earlier this year.)

After her husband’s assassination in 1968, she worked to secure his legacy, founding the King Center in Atlanta that same year. The site, she said, would be “no dead monument, but a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, a center of human endeavor, committed to the causes for which he lived and die,” according to the King Center’s website. She continued her activism until her death in 2006.

Kings graves
The final resting place of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the King Center in Atlanta Netherlands Embassy/King Center via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

“She was a galvanizer, a coalition builder, a master strategist, a champion for inclusion, a brave and selfless servant,” said Bernice King at the unveiling of the new monument, per Atlanta News First’s Bridget Spencer.

According to Hyperallergic’s Rhea Nayyar, the new monument’s dome features a quote from the woman it honors: “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”

The monument was commissioned by the streaming platform Hulu as part of the company’s “Made By Her: Monuments” project, which aims to spotlight women who are rarely celebrated in public spaces. The project has also commissioned Woolfalk to create two more monuments: One will honor Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Miami, while the other will depict Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Los Angeles.

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