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Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther, dies

February 01, 2006 09:57 IST

Coretta Scott King, who remained a lifelong torchbearer of Mahatma Gandhi's ideals of peace and non-violence and once described him as the 'political mentor' of her late husband, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, died on Tuesday.

The 78-year-old widow of the celebrated champion of American Civil Rights movement passed away in Mexico overnight. 'Coretta Scott King was in Mexico for observation and consideration of treatment for ovarian cancer. She was considered terminal by physicians in the United States,' the family said in a statement. 'King and her family wanted to explore other options.'

In 1959, Dr and Mrs. King spent nearly a month in India on a pilgrimage to visit the sites associated with Mahatma Gandhi and to meet with his disciples to understand the legacy of the apostle of non-violence. Since that visit, Scott King remained a lifelong admirer of Gandhi.

"She remained one of the biggest friends of the Indian American community and she wholeheartedly supported most of our causes," Subash Razdan, acting chairman of the Gandhi Foundation of the USA, told "Perhaps her greatest contribution was to facilitate the Gandhi Statue project in Atlanta," Razdan, who had known Scott King personally and had interactions with her on several occasions, said.

'The Indian American Community, especially in Atlanta, extends its heartfelt condolences to the members of the King family at the passing away of Mrs Coretta Scott King.' he said in a condolence letter. 'Mrs King was a great friend of the Indian American community, as she overwhelmingly supported the projects of peace and non-violence as preached both by Mahatma Gandhi and her husband M L King Jr.'

'In our remembrance of her, we celebrate her life and also celebrate the life that she gave to the GFUSA. Coretta Scott King kept the spirit of Gandhi alive after her husband's death and was the nurturing mother when the GFUSA was born and remained our greatest inspiration,' the GFUSA said in a statement titled, 'Our matriarch is gone'.

'We owe her a great debt of gratitude and offer our payment of that debt with our commitment to carry on the work as faithfully as she did', it said.

In a message to the foundation in 2005, King, on behalf of the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, had expressed her warmest greetings to the Gandhi Foundation of USA for organizing a health fair.

"The Gandhi Foundation of USA's initiative in creating this wonderful service in the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site Preservation District is a beautiful reflection of the humanitarian spirit that binds followers of my husband and Mohandas K Gandhi, whose teachings and example provided a pivotal influence on Martin's leadership," she said.

"It is gratifying that the Gandhi Foundation of USA-sponsored Health Fair is being launched in the King Historic Site Preservation District. Martin and the Mahatma were 'healers' of the social illnesses of racism and colonialism. But they were also deeply concerned about the health and well- being of people," she had said. "Thus, holding the SAI Health Fair in this community builds a new bridge of hope and healing that joins us in common cause as we carry forward their unfinished work into the 21st century."

The news Scott King's death saddened the nation, which had just commemorated the 77th birth anniversary of Dr King earlier this month.

In a message, President George Bush and wife Laura sent condolences to the King family - 'Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Coretta Scott King. Mrs King was a remarkable and courageous woman, and a great civil rights leader. She carried on the legacy of her husband, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, including through her extraordinary work at the King Center'.

'Mrs King's lasting contributions to freedom and equality have made America a better and more compassionate nation. Laura and I were fortunate to have known her and we will always treasure the time we spent with her', he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Speaker of the House J Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist ordered the flags on the Capitol grounds to be lowered to half-staff, in memory of Coretta Scott King.

"Today we've ordered the flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor Mrs King's lasting commitment to freedom and equality that will leave a lasting impression on our nation's rich history. Her contributions to the civil rights movement will forever be celebrated, and she will be remembered not just as the spouse of a remarkable leader but also as the extraordinary leader that she herself was," the Speaker said.

Indian Embassy officials said that a condolence message for the King family was being prepared on Tuesday by Ambassador Ronen Sen, who organised the first ever celebration of the birth anniversary of Dr King at the Indian Embassy in Washington on January 14.

Razdan noted that Mrs King was the motivator behind the dedication of the Gandhi Room in 1983 and refurbishing of the Gandhi Room by the Indian American Cultural Association at the Freedom Hall at the King Center in 1987. She personally inspired frequent and elaborate celebrations of the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at the King Center and also at the historic Ebenezer Church on Auburn Ave in Atlanta.

The Gandhi Foundation of USA in Atlanta honored Scott King with the Gandhi Peace award in 2004.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York