American civil rights advocate (1927-2006). Birth name: Coretta Scott. She was born on April 27, 1927 in Heiberger, Alabama, near Marion. Her father, Obediah, a farmer, was the first black man in the area to own his own truck. During the Depression, Coretta and her two siblings had to pick cotton to help the family earn money.

During her childhood, Coretta had to walk five miles every day to school, but as she grew older, she attended a high school in Marion, which was nine miles away -- too far to walk, so her mother, Bernice, rented a bus and drove all the black students in the area to school and back every day. Coretta loved music, and she learned how to play the trumpet and piano, as well as singing during school recitals. She graduated at the top of her class and enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where her sister, Edythe, had been the first full-time black student to live on-campus.

At Antioch, Coretta majored in music and education. She was able to take part in many campus activities -- until she began student-teaching. The local public schools had no black teachers and wouldn't allow her to teach any students. She got no help from Antioch and had to do her practice teaching at the college's demonstration school. She had greater success as a music student, adding the violin to her repertoire. She performed her first solo vocal concert in Springfield, Ohio, at a church where she sang in the choir. When she graduated in 1951, she decided that being a professional singer would be a better career than teaching, and she enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

While in Boston, she met Martin Luther King, Jr., who was studying at Boston University; they married in 1953, and Coretta graduated from the conservatory in 1954. The Kings moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where Martin started work as a minister.

In Montgomery, of course, the Kings' lives got real exciting real fast -- both personally and professionally. Their first child, Yolanda, was born just two weeks before the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Their house was bombed in 1956. Coretta was not just a background figure -- she was very much a leader. She marched, she gave speeches, and she even performed concerts on behalf of the movement. She attended the Disarmament Conference in Geneva as a delegate in 1962. However, Martin and Coretta didn't see eye-to-eye about her place in the movement -- she wanted to be more active, and he wanted her to spend more time at home.

After Martin was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, Coretta didn't withdraw, as some expected her to. She led 50,000 people in a march through Memphis just four days after the assassination and participated in the Poor People's March to Washington later that year. The next year, she wrote her autobiography (My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.) and traveled to India, Italy (where she met Pope Paul VI), and Great Britain, where she preached at St. Paul's Cathedral. She also began work on establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

Coretta also advocated strongly to make her husband's birthday a national holiday to commemorate the struggle for civil rights. It took a few decades, but in 1986, Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing January 15th as Martin Luther King Day.

Other causes that Coretta publicly supported over the years included opposition to the Vietnam War and both Iraq Wars, opposition to South African apartheid, opposition to capital punishment, and support for both veganism and gay rights. Perhaps the most unusual crusade that she fought for was a push to exonerate James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing her husband. For years, Ray had claimed that he was innocent, and Coretta and her children came to believe that Ray was the fall guy for a conspiracy that killed King. They requested that Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno establish a national commission to investigate the assassination. A subsequent Justice Deparment review concluded that Ray had acted alone and had killed King. The King family filed a wrongful death suit against Loyd Jowers, a former restaurant owner who had claimed to have been paid to plan King's murder. A jury in Tennessee ruled in 1999 that a conspiracy, including American government agencies, had been responsible for the assassination. Unsurprisingly, this ruling hasn't convinced nearly everyone.

Coretta suffered a stroke and mild heart attack in mid-August 2005. She died on January 30, 2006, at a rehabilitation center in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where she was receiving holistic therapy for her stroke and ovarian cancer.