Tuesday, February 5, 2013

'Betty & Coretta' - A Reminder of a Debt We All Owe

When a friend of mine told me about the Lifetime TV movie 'Betty & Coretta', I had no idea what he was talking about.

I soon found out that it was a movie about Dr. Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X and Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I recorded the movie and watched it early Super Bowl Sunday.

The movie, which stars Angela Basset as Coretta, and Mary J. Blige as Betty, is moving. Not so much for the acting, although the performances are pretty good,  but for the story itself.
Many don't know that Shabazz and King became friends, along with Myrlie Evers, widow of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evars, who was killed in front of his home in 1963.

I became aware of it watching the funeral of Coretta Scott King. Malcolm and Betty's oldest daughter Attallah Shabazz spoke at the service representing her family.

Here are an excerpt of her remarks...

"...I wasn't flattered when one picked Malcolm over Martin. I was protective of who he was through her. And vice versa. You're not doing the men any justice by picking one over the other. Your not doing us any justice by picking one over the other. There are many methods for us to get to this union of who we were."

Attallah Shabazz
Attallah Shabazz

"Our mothers....beautiful women. And I'd like to say, Mayor Franklin, that maybe my mother can have a honorary seat on that Freedom Choir. When I came home after meeting Yolanda King, my mother sat with bated breath, wondering how it would all go, as if it -- she were a long lost daughter of her own. So as we traveled on the road together we got to swap mothers -- all of us -- as I got to know the King siblings, and feel like their older sibling myself. Very protective I am of each of you in my heart."

"They were definitely sisters. My mother, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and Merely Evers would go away for retreats unbenounced to people -- pin curls, Noxema -- and share that which others could not. And when you saw any of them, grace followed; but not without a Keloid under the attire, not without a continuous rub of Aloe Vera, coconut oil, a little sag. But the commitment to the mission, to loving their husbands, to raising their children, sustained them. (Excuse me.)"

"When my mother in 1997 had her accident, the gathering of women surrounded us. I see many of them here. Mrs. King was no doubt a part of that perpetual momentum. When my mother made her "transition," Mrs. King was one of the few who maintained regular phone calls. Now I had always called and exchanged cards and things on significant dates -- not the Monday that celebrated her husband's birthday, but on exactly January 15th, because there's an intimate association. But on birthdays. And we would always get -- all six of my mother's children -- would receive something in the mail every birthday."

"... one of the most beautiful things -- as her eldest daughter and I discussed -- when you witness love and being loved the way we have by each our respectable mothers, you almost feel like you don't have the right to ask them to stay a day longer, when they are now in the arms of He who loved her most. For it is not fair to rob someone of that. Because if she was here, we'd still be on the receiving end. But from a chair, and quietly silent, the reflection -- and I know He reached down caressing her, and saying, "I'm here all the while." Sometimes just the human being needs simply that."

There are many people -black and white - who want to forget, or even minimize the Civil Rights Movement. But watching 'Betty and Coretta' made me realize something. We often talk about the ultimate price paid by King, Malcolm and Medgar Evers. We ought to honor these men and the many, many men and women who paid the ultimate price as well.

But the movie and Attallah's words remind me that these families continued to pay a price and do so to this day. Robbed of their fathers (Malcolm X was killed in front of his wife and children) and in a sense, growing up with men devoted to a mission so large that they had little to no time to the normalcy most of us take for granted, because a nation struggled to live up to it's creed, the sacrifice of these women and their children was enormous. It is the height of ingratitude to 'tire' of their stories - to fail to have them make a difference in our lives, or to try and evade any sense of responsibility to make our world better.

'Betty & Coretta' is a reminder of the huge debt we owe, to their husbands, to them, to their children and to one another.

You can listen to Attallah's remarks or read the transcript here...

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