AP Was There: Coretta Scott King mourns husband's death

AP Was There: Coretta Scott King mourns husband's death

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ATLANTA (AP) — A few close friends gathered at the home of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King after the civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., April 4th, 1968. Days later, Jacqueline Kennedy met with Mrs. King the morning of the funeral in Atlanta.

The Associated Press was there because of trailblazing reporter Kathryn Johnson, who died Oct. 23rd, 2019. She published the following two stories in April 1968:


"I do think it's the will of God," said Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., a few hours after the death of her husband. "We always knew this could happen."

Mrs. King was in seclusion of her home Thursday night, receiving only a few close friends in her bedroom. Friends and relatives greeted the streams of mourners, who passed 15 policemen guarding the house.

The slender, attractive wife of the civil rights leader was composed but seemed dazed. She wept occasionally and accepted a few phone calls, one from President Johnson.

Mrs. King, who is recuperating from major surgery, reclined on her bed watching television reruns of high moments in her husband's life. She was clad in a rose-colored robe.

A half dozen women friends were in the room with her and the Kings' eldest daughter Yolanda, 12, in pajamas and a robe and with her hair in curlers, lay on the floor, watching.

Mrs. King, 41, was told of her husband's death by Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., while at the airport waiting to fly to his bedside in Memphis.

The mayor had driven her and her two eldest children, Yolanda and Martin Luther King III, 10, to the airport when he received word that King had died. Allen took Mrs. King into a waiting room. She emerged weeping. He then drove her back home.

At Indianapolis, a spokesman for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said Kennedy had chartered a plane to take the King family to Memphis today and return the body to Atlanta.

Mrs. King requested that the plane be chartered after Kennedy telephoned to ask if he could assist her, the spokesman said.

Mrs. King had long lived with the threat of danger to her husband.

"We have lived with the threat of death always present," she said after her husband received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Since 1954, when King began preaching nonviolence as a tactic in fighting segregation, she had seen him jailed numerous times, stabbed once and threatened often. She was with him in 1956 at Montgomery, Ala., with their first child, when their home was rocked by a bomb blast.

Of the effects on her four children, she once said:

"I've tried to give them an understanding that their daddy is trying to help people. The two older ones understand. They take great pride and accept the dangers quite well.

"We all realize that something could happen. If it does happen, I think it will be the will of God. If it does, it would be a great way to give oneself to a great cause.

"But I pray to God nothing happens."


Two widows, both of whom lost famous husbands by an assassin's bullets, clasped hands and shared words of comfort yesterday.

Mrs. John F. Kennedy, who could perhaps understand the grief of Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. better than any other, flew to her home Tuesday for a brief visit.

Private Talk

The two attractive widows, both clad in black silk suits, spent about five minutes together in private talk in Mrs. King's bedroom, shortly before the funeral.

Mrs. Kennedy, who wore black mesh hose, first signed the guest book when she entered the King's simple red-brick home, with a friend, Rachel Mellon.

The former first lady then moved slowly down the long hall to the King bedroom, smiling and speaking softly to friends and relatives of the Kings.

Speaks to 4 Children

At the end of the hallway, she paused briefly to speak to the four King children, who were dressed up for the funeral.

Twelve-year-old Yolanda, who wore a white lace dress, said Mrs. Kennedy told her, "I'm mighty glad to be here."

She then went into the bedroom for the talk with Mrs. King.

Both left shortly afterward for the funeral, in separate limousines.

The King home, before Mrs. Kennedy's arrival, was a bustle of activity.

Mrs. King, who had again been up until the early morning hours making final funeral arrangements, remained in seclusion.

Friends, Family Help

Friends and relatives washed dishes, made coffee, fed guests and helped dress the children for the funeral.

Five-year-old Bernice, the youngest King child, spilled juice on her white dress and it had to be washed out and ironed hurriedly.

Mrs. King woke early to greet her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Obediah Scott, who arrived from Marion County, Ala.

Throughout the days of ordeal since her husband was shot last Thursday, Mrs. King has shown remarkable composure. Her friends have described her as showing "great strength."

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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