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She has a dream: a private life

Coretta Scott King is talking about her diet and the fact that she has become a vegetarian. About a book deal and the concerts she'd like to put on.

For the first time since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination 28 years ago, Coretta Scott King, 69, is ready to pursue her own dreams.

Her children, now grown, are clearly her favorite topic. She tells of an occasion when the Rev. King was left alone with them and quickly learned that non-violence wasn't a philosophy that unruly children understood.

"Well, I hate to admit it, (but) I did spank some," King said with a laugh. "But my husband used to say, "Don't do that; you can talk to children.' Well, one day he got stuck with them, and he realized that he had to do more than talk."

Spoiling grandchildren would be a welcome change, she said. But none of her children have married. "People are marrying later these days," King said.

When asked about her own marital prospects, she says that has never been a priority. "I never had a genuine proposal to remarry. You've got some nuts and crackpots out there. You have to have someone worth considering."

Since becoming a vegetarian more than two years ago, King says she's feeling healthier and more energetic.

On a normal day, King rises about 7 a.m. after reading and talking late into the night with friends. She begins her day with meditation, prayer and exercise. Her favorite drink is herbal tea, and if the TV is on, it's usually tuned to CNN.

Throughout the day, there are dozens of calls from people traveling through Atlanta who want an audience with her. She often declines, since the requests are numerous. She attends Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her husband got his start.

Leading a normal life has been difficult for King, who doesn't think of herself as a public figure. "It's hard to go out someplace and relax and be yourself. Being on display tends to create a lot of tension."

King's friends, who are staunchly loyal, say she has mellowed with time.

When the King Center became embroiled in a nasty public fight with the National Park Service over competing plans to build a facility honoring King's legacy, many wrote letters, called or came to Atlanta to offer support. The public's perception was that Coretta Scott King's plan, which included charging admission, was an effort to profit from her husband's legacy.

Despite her retirement, King remains in great demand as a speaker. Lynn Cothren, a special assistant to King, says her fees are not in the range of Colin Powell or Maya Angelou, who earn upward of $30,000 for a speech. Instead, King looks at individual groups and determines what her fees will be. "Mrs. King earns just enough to pay the bills," Cothren said.

Since she never took a salary from the King Center (or a pension), lecturing has always been her primary income source. But she shudders at the perception that her family is wealthy or has profited from her husband's name.

Despite being burglarized once, she has never left the modest Vine City home that she and the Rev. King purchased 31 years ago.

She buys her clothes off the rack at department store sales and by mail. And although an assistant helps out around the house, King still styles her own hair.

"If you add up everything, Martin left absolutely nothing," King said. "All that he did make, he gave away. We are not wealthy. We struggle just like everybody else. We struggle to pay our bills; we struggle to do what we do."

Still, these are happy and less stressful days for King. She's scheduling fewer engagements and spending more time visiting friends and family.

"It takes time (to slow down), but I'm getting there."