Coretta Scott King

The grainy black and white television footage and still photographs capture only a snippet of the struggle of millions symbolized by the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta Scott King.

A political thinker and leader in her own right, Coretta King stood up to police dogs, middle of the night phone threats, bricks shattering windows while her children slept, the FBI slime machine and Dixiecrat politicians who wore a suit by day and a sheet by night.

Perhaps only a novel or feature film could convey the courage kindled by confronting racist injustice with truth, sustained by daily acts of humanity and the power of working-class families rising from their knees to their feet.

Coretta King walked with, not above, the grace of Americans, Black, Brown and white, men and women, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, immigrant and native born. That cannot be buried or obscured despite the hypocritical speeches.

It is well to revisit the old TV footage of Selma and Montgomery and Atlanta and Chicago. It feels now, as it must have when Ms. King locked arms with her husband at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, that only the greedy, lying, vicious and exploitative win.

The question “Is it worth it?” to risk life and limb, family and reputation, for justice, for a better way of life, must have crossed her mind as the Alabama State Police lined up, bouncing three-foot batons in the palms of their hands.

Imagine where we would be, not only the U.S., but around the world, if that answer had been “no.”

With Bush’s war in Iraq raging — a war she condemned, White House spying on Americans — a reality she was all too familiar with, poverty deepening — a pestilence she spent a lifetime protesting, and a political climate fraught with the sickening stench of racism — a scent as vivid to her as magnolia — with all this, looking forward with confidence sounds like a platitude.

But marching forward is not just a legacy. It’s the only decision we, as Americans, can make.