The widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, died on Monday night in Mexico, where she was receiving treatment at a holistic health centre after a heart attack last year.

Coretta Scott King, 78, suffered a stroke and a mild heart attack last August. Her sister Edythe Scott Bagley told CNN she was receiving further medical treatment as part of her rehabilitation at Hospital Santa Monica when she died.

“She saw justice as a birthright and lent her voice as a relentless advocate for all fair-minded Americans, gay or straight, black or white,” Human Rights Campaign executive director Joe Solmoese said.

“We join the nation in mourning the loss of a great hero and give enormous gratitude for all that she’s left behind.”

Mr Solmonese praised Mrs. King for her support of a bill prohibiting anti-gay discrimination and for her work for justice for all people.

According to CNN, Mrs. King’s last public appearance was January 14 at a Salute to Greatness dinner as part of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Atlanta. She received a standing ovation and, supported on the arms of her children, waved to the crowd. She did not speak at the event and was in a wheelchair.

Born in Marion, Alabama, on April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

She received a B.A. in music and education and then went on to study concert singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

According to her official biography, she received her degree in voice and violin.

While there, she met a theology student from Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr., who was pursuing a doctorate at Boston University. They married on June 18, 1953, in her hometown of Marion.

Coretta Scott worked closely with the young pastor as he began his civil rights work in Montgomery, Alabama. She helped to organise marches and sit-ins at segregated restaurants while raising their four children: Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott and Bernice Albertine.

Mrs. King performed in “Freedom Concerts,” singing, reading poetry and speaking to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organisation Dr. King led as its first president. The family endured the beating, stabbing and jailing of the civil rights leader, and their house was bombed.

She spoke out “on behalf of racial and economic justice, women’s and children’s rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, the needs of the poor and homeless, full employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and ecological sanity,” her biography on The King Centre’s Web site said.

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