After seeing the photograph of the lapel pins in my post, Where Is The Love? Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I received a few texts and emails asking about the one of Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) that says Desert Rose. I am re-printing, here, a review I wrote five years ago (and posted on goodreads.com) of the book, Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King written by her sister, Edythe Scott Bagley (1924-2011).
The lapel pin in the photo is one I purchased in the gift shop at The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change when I was in Atlanta for a family reunion in 2015.
I was really excited about reading this book because when I was a child learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I would see photographs and documentary footage that often showed his wife by his side, I always wondered about her. She wasn’t one of the men but she was always there, yet, no one ever seemed to make a big deal about her. When she died in 2006 I remember feeling sad, and wanting the world to make the kind of mourning noise for her that I thought they would have had she been Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, or the Queen of England!
Now, I hate to say how much this book disappoints me, especially since it was written by Coretta Scott King’s elder sister, Edythe, who actually passed before the book’s publication. It disappoints because it isn’t intimate. I can’t feel the soul of the woman. I can’t feel her interior spirit and intellect, although I can presume it because of the types of work and achievement she gave herself to. I can’t get a grip on her as a sister or a daughter, wife, or mother. The narrative is so politely written that there aren’t even any mouthwatering descriptions of food or travels abroad to evoke the energy of newness, refreshment, or adventure. The fact that Edythe and Coretta were raised to be independent, creative, and scholarly black women in the early part of the 20th century is taken for granted, but could have been contextualized in a more dynamic way to allow the reader to understand what life was like for women in general, and southern black women in particular during those times.
This narrative tells but does not show the many tensions and complexities of Coretta Scott King’s life; and it reveals nothing of her personality. It feels as though it was written by someone who was gazing fondly but not thinking particularly deeply about events compiled in a family scrapbook, augmented by some random issues of JET magazine from the times.
Coretta Scott King is richer in my imagination than she comes across in this book. What the book does successfully is provide a chronological foundation for understanding the people and events who were contemporaneous with Coretta Scott King’s life of performing musical concerts and engaging in social and political activism. Maybe the King family’s iconic over-exposure to the American and international public has made them guarded and unable to reveal more than a public persona.
A new book, My Life, My Love, My Legacy (as told to Barbara Reynolds) is being published in 2017 by Macmillan. Check out a synopsis, here.