Mercer Islander’s old romance doubles as a brush with history | Opinion

By John Hamer, For the Reporter

“It was a great love story — and we might have changed history.”

That’s how Mercer Island resident Alan Woog describes his long-ago romance with Coretta Scott — who later married Martin Luther King Jr.

Woog, now 98, told me the story at his apartment on Mercer Island the day after Martin Luther King Day. Woog is frail physically, but sharp mentally and his memory is vivid. His eyes sparkled as he recalled their nearly two-year relationship.

It was the fall of 1948. Woog had been in the Army during World War II, and had graduated from the University of Idaho on the G.I. Bill. But he learned of a special program at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he could get a master’s degree, and enrolled there.

He had been married before, but was now divorced and a single grad student.

“I decided it was time for me to get a new girlfriend,” Woog recalled. So he sat in the college cafeteria one day and watched the girls go by.

“I saw Corrie and thought, gee, it’d be nice to have lunch with her,” he said. So he got in line and began chatting with her.

“It was quite obvious that she was bright, good-looking, and had the composure to handle any situation with self-confidence,” he said. “I had lunch with her and then walked her back to her dorm. I was in love with her ever since I first met her.” Their bond grew stronger and they dated for nearly the next two years.

Scott was one of only two African-American women then enrolled at Antioch, and there were only two African-American men. But Antioch was known as a progressive school, and “they were trying to start the process of diversification,” Woog said.

“You had to have brains and guts to be a Black woman in college then. She had both, big time.”

Were there any problems caused by their interracial relationship? Woog recalled a few incidents.

One Thanksgiving, he was invited to have dinner at the home of a friend. “I asked him if I could bring Corrie. He was a real liberal and said sure. I had a car, but we decided to walk the several blocks from the campus to his house.” Some weeks earlier, a visiting African man had been walking down the street with a white woman and was pelted with rocks and tomatoes. Alan and Corrie made it to the friend’s house safely, but “it was tense.”

The college held an annual formal dance where students dressed up and had “dance cards” to exchange partners for different songs. “No one signed her card except for one of the two Black male students,” Woog said.

Another time, they visited Corrie’s sister at Ohio State University in Columbus. “We stayed in the Black neighborhood,” he said. But one night he went out on the porch. Corrie asked what he was thinking. “I told her that there were millions of Black people in the United States who were being discriminated against and all hell is going to break loose someday. I was right.” But he added: “If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King, it would have been even more violent.”

Any especially good memories? “One Christmas she stayed on campus and I did too. But we had no place to get together. There was a Unitarian Chapel that had a nice room with a fireplace. I asked the chaplain if we could be there Christmas Eve and light a fire and spend some time together. He said sure. We had a charming evening. I gave her a necklace with emeralds on it. They weren’t real emeralds, because I didn’t have any money. But she loved it.”

At one point Corrie told Alan: “We have to talk about getting married.” But interracial marriage was still frowned upon or illegal in many states. He thought long and hard about it, but finally told her: “This isn’t going to work. All we’re going to do is destroy each other fighting society.” She was disappointed, he said, but accepted that reality.

They broke up in 1950 and he graduated. “We each went our own way.” Corrie got a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, where she met Martin Luther King Jr. The rest is history.

Did Alan ever see her again? “She came to Seattle in 1961 to give a concert,” he said.” I saw her briefly and met King, but they were surrounded by security guards and other people so we didn’t talk much.”

But she came to Seattle again in 2005 to speak at a luncheon. “I went up to her and put my arm around her and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ She said, ‘Certainly.’’ In her remarks, she thanked those who were there and then said: “I also want to thank one of my classmates from my Antioch days.” She asked him to stand up and be recognized.

Afterward, he talked to her again. “She grabbed my hand and it was just like we were back at Antioch. She squeezed my hand and didn’t want to let go.” They said goodbye and he never saw her again. She died of cervical cancer in 2006.

In her book, “My Life with Martin Luther King Jr.,” Corrie does not mention Woog by name, but said she dated a white student in college who “had a fine mind and was a good musician.”

Woog didn’t talk much about their relationship for decades. But after he won the National Tennis Association’s 90-plus seniors’ doubles match in 2014, Woog told the story to a Seattle Times sports reporter. He also spoke about it at a public event at the Jewish Community Center.

Asked about the current focus on the “The Embrace” statue recently unveiled in Boston, designed to honor Martin and Corrie, Woog is hesitant to comment. “It seems the goal was to create more love and respect, which is fine. But I know people are divided about it and I don’t want to get involved in any controversy.”

He just wants to remember Corrie as he knew her years ago, and embrace those precious memories.

Mercer Island resident John Hamer is a retired editorial writer and columnist for The Seattle Times. He first met Alan Woog working out at the Jewish Community Center, where they had many good conversations in the locker room. Email