Illustrations by Gregory Christie

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate the sustaining power of love, we asked Memphis author Alice Faye Duncan to share the story of Coretta Scott King and her loyalty to Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a story she tells in her forthcoming 2023 book “Coretta’s Journey—The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King” (Calkins Creek Press). Duncan sees their love as “the perfect study in cosmic devotion.” 

Few know Coretta Scott King’s journey from girlhood in Alabama to activist and prophet, speaking across the nation promoting nonviolence as a way of life. She challenged the Black civil rights patriarchy after Martin Luther King’s death. It was this fiery, unflappable, and resolute version of herself that captured Martin’s heart on their first date in Boston in 1951.

Alice Faye Duncan. Photo by Tarrice Love

As February is the month to extol love and Black history, I offer you ten Tanka poems. These spare verses recall 1955, the year Coretta and Martin were a young couple with a new baby in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin could not perceive that Montgomery’s boycott was the start of a liberation movement and that Coretta’s parents, Obie and Bernice Scott, had raised a woman who was the perfect love to walk with him and hold his trembling hand on the battleground for freedom. 

Originating in Japan, Tanka poems include five lines with 31 syllables (5-7-5-7-7). I chose this simple form to make a complex love story accessible to readers across all levels of understanding. What did Gwendolyn Brooks say? “Poetry is life distilled.” And here is my distilled understanding of the greatest love story that continues to keep on giving.  

Love Story — 1955

Coretta Scott King 

Martin Luther King Jr. 

Venus and Saturn

A convergence of planets

A cosmic union of fate


Coretta Scott King 

The songbird and preacher’s wife 

Dexter Baptist Church 

Dr. King preached like Moses 

Chattered Montgomery folks 


Rosa Parks rebelled

A nonviolent activist

Stubborn like granite

Seamstress took a front bus seat 

Arrested for her protest 


Thick black clouds of change 

Swept across Montgomery 

Jim Crow squawked at death

Black folks put on walking shoes 

Boycotted city buses 


Dr. King stood up 

Fanned the flames on Jim Crow’s pyre

Fiery-tongued preacher

Pretty wife and newborn child

His family soon a target


BOOM! King’s home was bombed

The bus boycott carried on

Fifty thousand strong

Black maids walked in snow and rain

December to December 


BOOM! King’s home was bombed

Coretta and baby cried

Martin grew fearful

Said…Go to your father’s house 

Coretta refused to leave 


Obadiah Scott 

Said…Come home to Heiberger 

Coretta said…NO

Venus and Saturn converged

It was not a time to run 


Bernice understood 

Coretta was Obie’s seed 

Fireproof heart of faith 

Baptized in muddy waters 

A woman born for battle 


Coretta Scott King

Venus and Saturn converged 

Two agents for change

Marched down highways and bridges

Singing — We shall not be moved

Alice Faye Duncan lives in Memphis and is a National Board educator who writes poetry and picture books for children to help them remember important, but forgotten moments from American history. Her newest titles include “Opal Lee and What it Means To Be Free” and “Evicted—The Struggle for the Right to Vote.” Free teacher guides for both books can be found at www.alicefayeduncan.com.