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Coretta Scott King remembered

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer

Chris Harris first met Coretta Scott King in 1972, when he attended the Democratic National Convention. He spoke his last words to her over the phone after she suffered a stroke and heart attack in 2005.

“Today, when I heard the news, I had a tear in my eye,” he said.

King died Tuesday at the age of 78. Her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968, at 39 years old. They had four children.

“His message was civil rights,” said Harris, a publicist from Hollywood who visits Carson City frequently because of a client here. “Her message was people, regardless of who they were. And that’s what made her special.”

Harris will attend a memorial for King in Los Angeles.

The first time he met her was at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Fla., where he escorted her in.

“She told me I was very gracious,” he said. “And I told her that she was very gracious. She was so polite and warm and hospitable to everyone there. And she said, ‘You just have to put a heart out there to everybody. Everybody counts.'”

Two years later, Harris was living in Cape Cod, Mass., when he received a call that King had planned a march for a section of Boston called “Old Southie.” He decided to go.

“For years they wanted (this section of Boston) to be integrated, and we showed up in ’74,” he said. “It was August or September, and we all marched. and it was incredible.”

Harris marched next to King in the front line. It wasn’t far into the march when the crowd pushed him into a police line. They picked him up and dragged him off.

“She screamed when she saw that,” he said.

Next, he found himself being pummeled by police in a back alley and then put into a squad car and jailed along with several others.

“We were there about an hour, and the (American Civil Liberties Union) showed up,” he said. “Mrs. King had sent them to get us out of there. Someone said ‘Mrs. King was very concerned about you.'”

He thanked her in a letter for getting him out of jail, but thanked her in person three years later when they coincidentally booked the same flight from Atlanta to New York.

King was in first-class, and Harris was in coach. She invited him to sit next to her in an empty seat, an invitation that evoked a negative response from the stewardess.

“Coretta said, ‘Oh yes, he can (sit here). There’s nobody sitting here.'”

She has always been inspiration for Harris.

“I think Coretta took (her husband’s) message that much higher,” he said. “She reached out to everybody and everybody reached out to Coretta.”

— Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.