Betty & Coretta: An Untold Story of Friendship and Activism
Betty & Coretta Mary J. Blige and Angela Bassett are fine in the title roles, but the using documentary techniques to help frame stories and putty over gaps. the relationship between Coretta Scott King (Bassett) and Betty. “You have to be strong in trial, stand by your relationships and your friends, Blige hopes that Betty & Coretta will help to recognize the women. Mary J. Blige and Angela Bassett star as “Betty & Coretta” in Lifetime's original With the help of friends and those in her community, Betty cared for her family.
And then as we were moving in Selma, you know, there was so many, many threats, ah, rumors of plots of his assassination that took place. And having had Malcolm's assassination to come while he was at Selma, I'm sure it reminded him more of the possibility of his own fate, you know, that ultimate fate. We're back on January 26,South Hamlin Avenue, can you describe for us your new home as you walk into the building for the first time.
Well, first of all, as I walked up to the third floor and entered the building, first thing I noticed was a very strong smell of urine and, ah, you know, the smell was all over, it perm- permeated the whole apartment it seemed. When I got inside, the living room was of course the first thing I saw, it has a large dirty couch, ah, in the living room and the walls were very dirty.
Ah, it was not the kind of place that you would want to live in. We had to get it fixed up. I think it had to be, ah, repaired and all. But we had to look at it first to see whether this was what we wanted.
And of course, we wanted something that was very typical of the way people had to live. And we found it. Ah, in other words the place was generally broken down, ah, nothing worked: Ah, but this was the kind of living that I'm sure most people in the area encounter daily. Ah, I knew of course I didn't have to live there permanently so I could live there for that period of time and, ah, and be very comfortable and satisfied because it was for a purpose, it was for the cause, the sake of the cause.
Ah, of course the place was fixed up a bit by the landlord when he found out that Martin Luther King, Jr. And, ah, even, ah, painting it up and, and getting some different furniture, ah, you know, still didn't improve it but so much, ah.
But one of the things that I, I realized, ah, living there, you begin to feel a sense of close identification with the people in the neighborhood. They were, they were so happy to have us there. I mean they, they extended such a warm welcome. And, ah, you know we lived in the neighborhood where there were gangs and one of the, ah, one of the gangs, the, I think it was the, ah, Blackstone Rangers, ah, lived in that neighborhood.
And of course they came and offered their protection.
They said, "You don't need, Dr. King you don't need any police we can take care of you and we're going to take care of you so don't you worry about a thing. King said, "Come in and have a seat.
You don't mean that this cats been up there in Washington, eating with Presidents, eating filet mignon steak and here he's sitting down here eating barbecue just like me. But it was, it was a great feeling you know, knowing that these people really cared and that they would, they would be there whatever we needed. And we didn't want them to use any weapons or to be violent. But it was, we knew that they were not going to do anything to harm us but they would do everything they could to protect us.
Now, when did your children come up and join you and how did you feel about raising children in a neighborhood like this? Well it was, ah, the summer of, I think in July when we brought the kids up and, ah, they came for a few weeks. And we thought that it was important that they, ah, have this experience. But since Martin was away so much it was also a matter of just spending time together because he'd have to come back and forth to Atlanta.
So having the family there for that period and having the children experience this kind of living was very important and I remember, ah, I guess one of the hardest parts of the whole experience was when I would, ah, bathe the kids in the morning and get them dressed and they would go out in the back yard to play and the dirt was very dark, it was really Black dirt.
Ah, ah, it was, it apparently was mixed with, with coal or something, I don't know, but the dirt would stick on their clothes and so within a short period of time they would all be dirty as they could be all over again. And I kept thinking if the kids had to live this way, you know, all of their lives, what effect it would have on them and, and yet, you know, there were other children who knew no other life but this.
So the kids enjoyed playing in the dirt. And they enjoyed playing with their little playmates in the neighborhood.
Of course we had supervision and all of that but it was a tremendously valuable experience I think for them, although they were very young. Ah, the other part of that experience was, we just happened to be there the night when, ah, the rioting, ah, started on that side of town.
We were in that apartment and with the children and that was very scary for a while. Because the children had no sense of the danger of, of, of a riot at all. And they thought it was funny to hear the guns popping and, and, and the shooting in the neighborhood.
They didn't realize that they could be killed. Ah, and I was there in the apartment alone with the children trying to get them to, to calm down and to get them ready to go to bed. What did you see in your own neighborhood as you looked out the window that night? Ah, some window, window panes in a store I think were shattered.
There was some shooting into a, a store, and, ah, the children saw that, and, and of course, ah, that was when it first started. Then later, ah, we looked out the kitchen window which was in the back part of the house and we saw, ah, people looting the grocery store. It was the strangest feeling to see people going into a store and picking up all the groceries, putting them in baskets and you knew they were stealing it out and, ah, of course we watched this for a while and all of a sudden we could hear someone said, "Police!
I don't think they caught anybody. But this was the way it usually happened, ah, and this store was so close to our apartment we could have almost thrown a rock into it from our window. King, can you tell me what happened as you left Mahalia Jackson's to go to Shiloh Baptist for a rally that night. We were driving, ah, through the neighborhood, and all of a sudden we saw some children running away, ah, and the police chasing them, and, ah, we knew something was going on but we weren't sure what, ah, so as, as we continued to, to watch back and forth, ah, we realized that the children had been playing with the water hydrant and it turned the water on and the police turned it off.
It was a very hot day and, ah, this kind of thing going on and, ah, there had been some rock throwing and all.
And we saw some of that. And so my husband, of course, always got very, ah, nervous when there was any kind of violence taking place because he knew what it could lead to more violence and, and, somebody, you know, can end up getting hurt or killed.
Ah, so we, as we moved along we realized that, you know, the, you know, the, the violence and the, all this was taking place, and, ah, it was spreading. Ah, so we finally went to the church and, ah, made some phone calls and we found out that some of the people had been arrested, a number of people had been arrested, and had been taken to, to various jails in their neighborhood.
So we found out where some of these were and we visited some of those jails that night. It seems like we stayed in the streets most of that night. Ah, it was very interesting, you know, with Mahalia being there because being the celebrity that she was, ah, and with Martin Luther King, Jr. And, ah, then that night of course we spent the night at Mahalia's, but we didn't get much sleep that night because, you know, it was a very uneasy night with all of this violence taking place.
Martin, of course, and the SCLC staff, ah, you know, would be, of course, around in the street trying to do what they could to contain it.
Ah, SCLC had a very excellent staff and many of the staff had worked with some of the gang, ah, people. So they were able to, to communicate to some extent with them. And I think they were able to, ah, to do something but they were not able to control it completely.
Once violence starts, it's very difficult, you know, to control it. But it was a very frightening kind of thing because we knew it could spread. And of course they never did get the violence to subside. Ah, it went on throughout the night, throughout the day and the next night it had spread on the west side, where, that's where we were living, ah, on Hamlin Street.
And of course, ah, it went on for a few days as you know. But this was quite an experience, ah, I never thought that I would be in a situation, up to that point, ah, where, you know, there was a real riot. But I was right in the middle of the riot really, ah, during that Chicago experience.
Can you tell me about Bunny's first march. We had planned to not take Bunny because she was 3 years-old and we felt that because it was so hot, as a matter of fact, the hottest day of the year, ah, in July, July 10th that we would get a babysitter and leave them in the apartment.
We took her to the rally. My husband said after we got to the rally and she started, ah, asking if she could march. She said, "You know I want to march. When are we going to march? Mommy, when are we going to march? And finally Martin said, "Oh, let's take her. So all of the children, ah, and Bunny and Martin and myself and the whole, ah, crowd of, I don't know, thousands marched towards City Hall.
And as we marched toward City Hall, little Bunny, ah, got tired and, ah, Andy Young put her on his shoulders and he carried her for a large part of the distance. And of course I could see her head bobbing up and down as we walked along, on his shoulders.
Betty and Coretta: An Untold Story of Friendship and Activism
And we got to City Hall where Martin, ah, ah, nailed the demands on the door of City Hall, ah, which was, ah, the symbolism, ah, was very much like that of Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, of, when he nailed his thesis on the door of Wittenberg. And, ah, Bunny did not get to see City Hall because she was fast asleep. Ah, I certainly wish somehow that I could have a film of that or a photograph of it because it was very special since it was the first time that all of us had marched together.
King I understand that you took part in an unprecedented action in South Holden. Could you describe that for us? The Southern Christian Leadership, Leadership, excuse me. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference in an effort to dramatize the plight of poor people who lived in slum dwellings in Chicago actually took over some apartments and began to clean them up and to, of course collect the rent and, and to file complaints with the Housing Authority, ah, which of course, ah, ah, were acted upon.
And in that process Martin and I, and along with Al Raby, ah, got into work clothes, ah, and we got, ah, shovels and, and we began to, ah, you know, to, ah, lift up the garbage and put it into the cans because it was all around the apartment buildings, on the ground and every place, and clean up the place in general.
And, ah, this was, a, a, I think it was an important effort. And I remember it was very cold, ah, very cold day when we did this.
Betty and Coretta (TV Movie ) - IMDb
Ah, but it was important to, to make that statement, I think, so that, ah, it was carried, you know, on the news and in the newspaper. Ah, those conditions, ah, were not known certainly by a lot of people. They didn't know how badly, how poor, ah, how, how, I say it, how, ah, ah, how bad the slum conditions were for some people who had to live under those conditions and yet pay exorbitant rents for what they were getting.
And, ah, this was a part of this whole fair housing, ah, ah, thrust that began in Chicago that finally ended up in getting housing legislation, ah, in And this was of course after my husband's death. But I think that this effort eventually, ah, did pay, pay off but it took a long time. Now, could I just get, um, for our editing purposes, it would help if you could just give us a beginning to the story by describing how five families came to your house one night to ask for help.
Ah, we, ah, as I said, we, ah, took this apartment on Hamlet Street on the west side of Chicago. And, ah, one night, ah, well Martin was home in the apartment, five different families came to him and to ask for his help and they talked about, you know, the inhuman conditions under which they were living, ah, ah, the lack of proper sanitation, ah, the, ah, lack of extermination of, from rats and that kind of thing, ah, and they were very concerned that they had to continue to live this way.
And, of course, after Dr. King heard their, their pleas, and, ah, he wanted to try to help in some way. And, ah, inasmuch as he had come to Chicago for the purpose of addressing this problem.
Betty & Coretta
Ah, they decided then, after meeting with his staff people, ah, that, you know, one thing that could, could take place would be to, you know, just go in and, ah, and in the sense, ah, take over the buildings and start helping the people and running the apartments in the sense that, ah, people would no longer pay the rent to the landlords because the landlords were not doing anything to improve the conditions of the homes.
Did your husband feel constrained about coming out so publicly against the war before and if he did, how come? Yes, ah, I think it's important to realize that, that Martin for a long time, for many years, had really wanted to take a position, a strong position against the war.
He had discussed it, ah, in the SCLC Board Meetings, with his colleagues, ah, and got reactions that, ah, were strongly opposed to him doing it because they felt like, you know, it was not connected with civil rights. Most people felt that civil rights, ah, and the peace issue were two separate pieces. And Martin knew that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and as he said, "I've fought too long, ah, to, ah, against segregation, ah, to now end up segregating my moral concerns.
Ah, and, and he felt that, you know, he had to make that connection for people. And it was event- eventually affecting, ah, you know, the whole climate in this country. Because there were a series of, ah, of riots that were, that had broken out in various cities around the country between '65 and, ah, ' There had been quite a number. And, ah, so he felt that it was, there was a very direct connection.
Interview with Coretta Scott King
I think he had come to a point where he felt as if he had, you know, no choice if he were, ah, going to be true to his own convictions and his own conscience, that he had to make a statement, he had to take, make a public stand against this, ah, very inhumane and unjust war as he said. Ah, he did not get the support from his colleagues or from any of his, ah, SCLC Board members that he would have liked. As a matter of fact I think most of them went along but they didn't agree with him.
And he finally decided that, ah, you know, he had to take this position. And on April 4th,ah, he made a far reaching statement at the Riverside Church in New York, ah, in which he, ah, he talked about the Vietnam conflict and why he was taking the position.
And, ah, shortly, very shortly there was condemnation from all quarters, both Black and White leaders across this country. It was a very agonizing period for him. Ah, because, ah, ah, you know, most of the people that he'd worked with, ah, leadership, for other organizations, made public statements, ah, against Martin Luther King, Jr--They felt that, ah, you know, he didn't know enough about foreign policy to speak about it, that he needed to stick to civil rights.
Ah, and of course, ah, ah, he knew he had made the right decision and he was willing, I think, to, to suffer whatever the consequences might be, even the loss of funds to his organization. He knew that was going to happen and it did. Ah, SCLC's contributions suddenly went way, way down and we had to take some special measures to try to solicit support from some of our peace friends.
Ah, I had been very much involved in the peace movement. He had encouraged me to be active since Ah, I had been the family spokesperson on the peace issues, having gone to the, ah, the, the Disarmament Conference, the Seventeen Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva in as one of 50 American housewives.
And from that point on, ah, appeared in rallies and marches, ah, between Washington and New York, ah, through up untilwhen he took his position.
And I think his feeling was that if I was speaking out on the peace issue, then, ah, at least there was a King person, family person, who is, ah, who is, ah, you know, speaking to the issue.
And somehow he, he felt a little bit more comfortable with my doing it and his not doing it but not really totally comfortable and totally relieved, and he said, as he said, he was the happiest person in all the world when he could finally come to a point where he could publicly, ah, make a far reaching statement against the war and condemn it.
And, ah, that was the time when he felt, I think, in his own conscience, that he had done what he knew was right to do. King, I would like to have you give us a sense of the anguish that your husband went through. And then, as I said, if you could also wrap up by telling us about the phone call from Whitney Young. Martin agonized really over the decision of whether he should come out sooner than he did.
I mean over those several years, I remember the, right after the Nobel Peace Prize, ah, in in December and in the early part of '65 he made a statement, a fairly strong statement.
And of course the press, ah, noticed it and, ah, sort of attacked him about the statement. And, ah, he, ah, he began to, I guess kind of weigh his, his words. But at that time, he, ah, conferred with his Board and because he said that it would affect very directly SCLC and the work that he was doing, ah, in terms of the support that he was getting. Because people who were with me on civil rights will not be with me on this issue, and we have to count those costs.
And all I want you to do is to allow me to make the statement as an individual, not on behalf of the organization.
And, ah, now of course, he had the right to do that, ah, on his own but there was no way you could, the press would make that distinction or the people would make that distinction. Therefore he had to prepare them for what, ah, were, were real consequences. And, he, I think, always understood that. But it was very difficult for him because he really felt very strongly from the very beginning on this whole issue of war and, ah, the Vietnam war especially because he had studied the, ah, conflict, ah, studied back in the, ah, '40s and he was able to, ah, to see the development of, of the United States getting more involved and, and how all that happened and why, you know, we didn't have to get that involved.
And then he could see the in- injustice of it all and how it was affecting, ah, the country domestically and how the people who were the poorest people in this country were more directly affected by it. Ah, and I remember when he, ah, ah, continued to, ah, you know, to feel that, you know, as a person of conscience he, he needed to come forth and make the statement.
And it was like, you know, I, whatever the risk is, you know, I must take it now, ah, because it's the right thing to do. And, he finally, of course did take the position, as I said, and, ah, he, ah, was, ah, attacked by many of his colleagues. And I remember one day when he was home, ah, he had been traveling for a few days and he happened to be home that day. And in the morning of that day he started, ah, talking about the fact that he was very disappointed in Whitney Young's comments and, ah, Whitney had made some very negative comments about his statement and he said, "I can understand the older leaders like Roy Wilkins and others but I don't understand Whitney.
He's a younger man. So I said to him, "Well, Martin, if you feel that way, why don't you pick up the telephone and call Whitney. Because, ah, whenever, whenever, ah, ah, you feel like that I think it's the right thing to do and you normally would do this.
Why don't you just go ahead and do it? So he said, "I believe I will. They talked for an hour and I heard him rehearsing the history of the Vietnam conflict, starting back in the '40s and going on up to the present time. And I could tell that Whitney was saying "Well, Martin, you understand this. You know that history. I didn't know that. And I heard him saying, you know, as he was talking for a long time.
And I was the happiest person in the world when I could come out and take a position on, against that evil and unjust war. The fact is that nothing changed in terms of the reality of the reaction against him.
Ah, it was a very, very agonizing experience, ah, because he knew that he was right on this issue. Ah, and of course history has borne him out on that, ah, and I think it was the timing was right. It was, ah, something that took a lot of courage, ah, to do. Ah, but I think that the fact that he took that position, ah, put him in, ah, put him in, I think, in, into a, a relationship in history, I believe, that, ah, you know, that few people stand in because there are times in your life when you, when you have to make those difficult decisions which can cost you the ultimate sacrifice.
And I think that, ah, that position, as well as his, ah, his continuing efforts, ah, with the Poor People's Campaign, ah, combined, really, ah, was the beginning of the, the, ah, so-called, end of his, his life. You have to pay the ultimate sacrifice if you stand up for what you really believe in. But I think there's something greater than that that you don't try to save your life because, I think, history was moved forward as a result of the position that he took.
In the summer of '67 how was Dr. King feeling as he had taken a stand against the war. Cities were flaring up. People were looking to him for answers. Well, Martin had a tendency to take things upon himself, take the blame for things that he didn't deserve the blame for. Whenever there was violence, whenever violence erupted any place, ah, in the country, particularly racial violence, ah, he would always feel that he was going to be blamed and he would say, "Well, you know, they're going to hold me responsible.
Ah, and I kept saying, "But you are not responsible. You know you're not responsible, Martin. You are the one that's trying to make sense out of all this chaos. And, ah, so you're not responsible. And you can't blame yourself for this. And, ah, he felt that, that, ah, that all the violence was the result, as a result of those expectations that were unfulfilled.
And, ah, he felt that, you know, he knew that the nation had the resources, ah, didn't have the will or the commitment.
So he was trying to figure out a way to generate that. And, ah, I think it was somewhere in the late summer that, ah, he was in discussion with Marian Wright Edelman, and she had worked in Mississippi and was talking about the conditions in Mississippi and had some, some ideas about, you know, how, ah, this whole, ah, campaign to help poor people could be addressed.
And it's not clear to me who suggested the idea of a mule train, ah, starting in Marks, Mississippi. But I remember he came home and he was talking about this whole idea of a mule train starting in Mississippi, using the mule and the wagon as a symbol of poor farmers. Ah, Marks, Mississippi was I guess about the poorest county in the, in the United States at that time.
And, ah, to dramatize the plight of the poor, this mule train would start there and would go through Mississippi and pick up other people and, ah, the idea was to start and go all the way through Alabama and the Carolinas and on up to Washington.
Ah, and, ah, you know, have a, a campaign, which would be the Poor People's Campaign. But there was, there was much more to it than that. But the whole idea was to bring poor people together around the issue of, of economic justice and lack of jobs and income. And, ah, so he, he got excited about this idea and started developing it further. So by, ah, March of 19, ah, 68 he had called together, ah, leaders of the poor people in this country which included Whites from Appalachia, Hispanics from, ah, from, ah, ah, what, New York, and from, ah, ah, New Mexico and other places, ah, California and, ah, Native Americans and Blacks of course.
And this was the, ah, the first restaurant in Atlanta Hotel where Black and White people could, ah, come to meet and have ah, have, have dinner and so on. I decided that this was a very important, historic occasion and I wanted to be there. So I did attend this meeting. And, you know, it was so exciting to see, ah, Native Americans, ah, Hispanics, and, ah, ah, White leaders from Appalachia and of course Blacks, sitting down and talking about, ah, what they had in common.
And Martin invited them to join the Poor People's Campaign. Because by that time they had developed a concept to the point where, you know, they were ready to invite people in. And I said to him, "Like most great events in history, that are historic in nature, the press will miss this one too.
But I want to be there. More surprisingly the friendship that formed between these two women after the assassinations of their husbands is an untold story. Some of the heirs are not happy with the flick. Whether or not Dr. Shabazz spoke on her death bed is somewhat irrelevant. The point is Mrs. According to the children, moreover, there was a house visit portrayed in the movie which never really took place.
Lifetime took great care adding credibility to the film by featuring actress, Ruby Deeas narrator of the movie and dear friend of the Shabazz family. The movie picks up right before the assassinations of Malcolm February 21, and Martin April 4,and opened with Ruby Dee who recently turned 90 years old setting the stage for the times of racism, war, and poverty in America.
Throughout the film she continues sharing facts about the deaths of Dr. King gathered to make Martin Luther King, Jr. The movie is not about Dr. The movie is also not about the King and Shabazz children. The movie focuses on two women who were powerful, strong, faithful, and devoted leaders in their own rights.
The film spans three decades and weaves the lives of these two civil rights activists and shares how they stood for justice. Blige and her four daughters watched her husband being gunned down as he took the stage to deliver what became his last message.
With the help of friends and those in her community, Betty cared for her family and earned a doctorate degree in high-education administration from the University of Massachusetts. She spent the rest of her life working as an university administrator and fundraiser, before she died on June 23, as a result of injuries sustained by a fire her year-old grandson, Malcolm set in her home.
At the end of the movie, Ruby Dee notes that Mrs. King died innine years after Dr. Shabazz, from ovarian cancer. The movie goes beyond their advocacy works and humanizes these valiant women. It is difficult to know for sure the intimate conversations that took place between the two.