The first time I read that Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., paid the hospital bill for the delivery of Julia Roberts I figured it was one of those urban legends about movie stars like you hear all the time. Things like Richard Gere and the gerbil, or that Jamie Lee Curtis is actually a hermaphrodite, or that Jim Nabors and Rock Hudson got married. There seems to be no end to the plethora of urban legends as they apply to the movie stars Americans love and love to hate. The story of Julia Roberts’ birth, however, turns out to be entirely true.
Leave us go back to those halcyon days of 1967 when all was right with the world. Ahem. At any rate, back in those days the very idea of a black man becoming President was not just something that would cause laughter in Atlanta and its suburbs, it would cause men to pick up and arms and a rope for lynching. Okay, so things haven’t changed so much in some of Atlanta’s suburbs, but in 1967 respectable white folk just didn’t allow black children into their houses. Yeah, I know, it sounds insane and it was, but unless you lived in the South during the 1960s you have no idea just how widespread and ingrained racist attitudes were.
And so when Julia’s parents agreed not just to give acting lessons to the children of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, but to give those acting lessons inside their very home; well, that was a tremendously huge deal. Huger than most people who voted for Barack Obama can ever imagine. Coretta knew the size of this deal, however; knew it far better than most, probably. Coretta knew that Julia Roberts’ parents had done something truly special and probably a little dangerous and she wanted to show her appreciation for their bravery. Now, where I grew up, we had black friends and had them in the house with a second’s thought, but we were lower class and I imagine most people never gave us a thought. Heck, being Gypsies, probably a lot of people thought we were lower than negroes, as African-Americans were commonly called at the time. For a more respectable family like the Roberts to bring black kids into their home had to have been a genuinely bigger deal.
And so, in order to show her appreciation for what the Roberts had done, Coretta Scott King took it upon herself to pay for the birth of Julia Roberts. She did it in secret and took it to her grave. Julia Roberts herself only found out about it after Coretta died in 2006.