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Martin & Coretta have been to the Mountaintop

16 Jan Posted by in Jewelle Gomez | Comments Off on Martin & Coretta have been to the Mountaintop
Martin & Coretta have been to the Mountaintop

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968 I was a teenager sitting in my bedroom.  I remember that as clearly as the assassination of JFK.  I sobbed and naively thought that his death would mean the country would wake up and repudiate the racism and violence that plague the country.  How wrong could one person be!?

When Coretta passed away in January of 2006 I think I was at home. I know I heard about it in the evening but unlike with the political assassinations, no specific image comes to mind.  But Martin and Coretta are forever linked in my mind.  She was always beside him, marching and meeting.  And she was extraordinarily beautiful, her face was a kind of classic dramatic mask.  I wanted to hear more from her but didn’t until after MLK’s death.

When I visited the Civil Rights Museum housed in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King was shot I was a soggy mess.  I had only one day on my way through town and had to choose between that and visiting Graceland. I figured I’d get back to Elvis one day (still trying).  Nothing prepared me for the emotional impact of sitting in an old bus, just as Rosa Parks did and the teenager Claudette Colvin did before her and hearing the tape of a snarling bus driver demanding I sit at the back.  I don’t know how they continued sitting knowing they were taking their lives in their hands.

When I stood outside the Memphis hotel room, looking through to the balcony where it happened I couldn’t stop the tears and a little white girl asked her father why.  He could barely answer because he was crying himself.  Nothing could explain the sense of loss we both had on that day except to imagine being down deep in a hole in the ground and seeing the lid snapped shut above you blocking out the light and the hope it held.

But hope did remain and Coretta kept going.  Activists are still working toward racial and economic equality, it’s just a little more complicated now.  Picket signs and boycotts no longer work.  And too many African Americans (Judge Thomas, Condoleeza Rice and street thugs in gangs) we might hope would support equality have bought the capitalist Kool-aid themselves.  It seems to be easy to move from being poverty pimps to gang members or elected officials who don’t listen to any community but themselves.  The only principles they follow are related to acquiring things—power, money, sexual hegemony.

But Coretta kept going, her eye on the sparrow of equality for all people.  Like Dr. King who was against the war in Viet Nam and was condemned by other black leaders for it, Coretta Scott King spoke up for gay rights saying: “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.” She was also attacked for these human rights values, this time by members of her own family.

Her continued efforts helped to make the early years of civil rights activism relevant to the world we face today, just as Dr. King was trying to do.  Old fashioned, single issue African American activists are so yesterday!  Martin and Coretta forever!!!

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.  Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website:

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