For years, claims have spread online that civil rights activist Coretta Scott King babysat Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor John Lithgow.
“TIL that John Lithgow's childhood babysitter was Coretta Scott King (wife of Martin Luther King Jr. and a hugely accomplished activist in her own right),” a Reddit post said on Sep. 30, 2017.
We also found posts stating the claim on X (formally Twitter).
Over years, in various settings, Lithgow has publicly discussed being babysat by Coretta Scott King. We reached out to two of Coretta Scott King’s children, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, via email to corroborate the story.
After our initial publication of this report, we received a response from Bernice King's email, saying the claim appeared to be true. Considering that, as well as the fact there was no plausible reason to doubt Lithgow's account, we rated this claim "True."
Lithgow wrote in his 2011 autobiography, “Drama: An Actor’s Education,” that his family lived in Ithaca, New York, for a year while his father, producer and director Arthur Lithgow, got his master's degree in playwriting from Cornell University in 1948. The family then moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, where they lived for ten years.
Lithgow’s timeline in Yellow Springs overlapped with Coretta Scott King's, according to news reports about her life. She moved to Yellow Springs from Alabama in 1945 to study music and education as part of Antioch College’s Interracial Education Scholarship program. She attended the college until 1951, when she moved to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory of Music. There, she met her future husband, Martin Luther King Jr.
Lithgow's 2011 autobiography was among places where he shared the story. He wrote:
In the nineteenth century, Yellow Springs had been a major way station on the Underground Railroad, and Antioch warmly embraced the town's fervent abolitionist heritage. The "Antioch Program for Interracial Education" predated the Civil Rights Movement by several years, and the progressive citizens of Yellow Springs shared the college's pride in it. My parents were two of those proud citizens. They regularly hired student babysitters from the program for my siblings and me. Our favorite was a vibrant girl named Coretta. A few years after her babysitting days ended, Coretta would marry a young minister from Georgia named Martin Luther King, Jr.
When she was Coretta Scott, she babysat for me and my siblings in Yellow Springs, Ohio. And I met her when I was an adult, and she was a good friend of the producer of a play I was in. And she remembered me very fondly. Apparently I was not that hard to take care of.
Also, in 2017, Lithgow told AARP:
Coretta Scott was our babysitter when I was very young. I saw her later, in 1974, when I did a silly Broadway comedy. She reminded me that she’d been my babysitter. I had not made the connection between “Coretta” and “Coretta Scott King.” Can you imagine being told that by such an iconic person?
That Mr. Lithgow, now 65, would become an actor seems from his book like a foregone conclusion. He had what amounts to a 19th-century theatrical childhood, like that of Ellen Terry or of one of the Crummles family in “Nicholas Nickleby.” His father, Arthur Lithgow, was an itinerant actor-manager who ran Shakespeare festivals in the Midwest (where one of the family baby sitters was Coretta Scott, who later married the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and was for a while the artistic director of the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J. Mr. Lithgow began appearing in his father’s productions at 2, and by the time he was in grade school knew how to time a laugh and put on his own makeup.
Also involving Coretta Scott King, we previously fact-checked a claim alleging that Julia Roberts’ parents couldn't afford the hospital bill for her birth, so Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King covered it. That claim was true.