Educator Edythe Scott Bagley, 86, sister of Coretta Scott King

Edythe Scott Bagley (right) with her sister, Coretta Scott King, in 1971.
Edythe Scott Bagley (right) with her sister, Coretta Scott King, in 1971. (Family photograph)
Posted: June 13, 2011

Edythe Scott Bagley, 86, sister of Coretta Scott King, steward of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, and an arts and education pioneer, died Saturday, June 11, at her home in Cheyney, Chester County.

A teacher at Cheyney University for 26 years, Mrs. Bagley was the force behind the establishment of a theater-arts major there in 1980, her family said. She retired from the college in 1996.

She was a close confidante of her younger sister, and recently completed a biography of Coretta Scott King, due out next year from the University of Alabama Press.

She "was my best friend and closest associate," Mrs. Bagley told The Inquirer in 2006, shortly after her sister's death.

Mrs. Bagley moved to Atlanta from the Philadelphia area after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968, and stayed there two years as a support for her widowed sister.

At that time, she helped establish the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta, and had served on its board of directors since 1968. She occasionally represented her sister at events, and appeared on radio and TV on behalf of the Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

"Our Aunt Edythe was a vibrant, brilliant woman and always a source of strength and wisdom for our mother during the difficult challenges of the civil rights movement," Martin Luther King III said. "We will miss her dearly, and she leaves a great void in the hearts of our family and her many friends and colleagues."

Her devotion to education, the arts, and social justice were expressions of the same passion, said her son, Arturo Bagley, a history teacher at Tower Hill School in Wilmington.

"She saw studying English and theater and putting on plays as part of people's exploration of their humanity," he said. "And if they explored their humanity well enough, they would be committed to social justice."

Mrs. Bagley was born in Marion, Ala., to Bernice M. and Obie Scott Sr. Valedictorian at the Lincoln School there and a gifted singer, in 1943 she earned a scholarship to Antioch College in Ohio, where she became its first black student in the modern era.

As an African American woman from the rural South, she loved Antioch but felt isolated there, her son said. She transferred to Ohio State University in her final year and earned a bachelor's degree.

She went on to earn a master's degree in English at Columbia University and taught at Elizabeth City State Teachers College, where she met another young scholar, Arthur M. Bagley. They wed in 1954.

Mrs. Bagley also taught at Albany State College in Georgia and Norfolk State University in Virginia. She earned a master of fine arts degree in theater at Boston University in 1965.

She remained an avid supporter of theater throughout her life, with subscriptions to the People's Light and Theatre Company in Malvern and the Walnut Street Theatre. Mrs. Bagley was an active member of St. Paul's Baptist Church in West Chester.

In addition to her son and nephew, she is survived by a brother, the Rev. Obie L. Scott Jr.; another nephew, Dexter Scott King; and a niece, the Rev. Bernice A. King. Her husband, a former chairman of Cheyney's industrial arts and technology department, died in February.

A viewing will begin at noon Friday, June 17, at the DeBaptiste Funeral Home, 601 E. Miner St., West Chester, where a funeral will follow at 1 p.m. Burial will be in the family plot in Marion.


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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