The Coretta Scott King awards were established to commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honor Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination in continuing the work for peace and brotherhood.

The awards were founded by the late Glyndon Flynt Greer, a school librarian in Englweood, N.J., who envisioned an award that would recognize the talents of black authors and encourage them to continue writing books for children and young adults. The award was established in 1969 by Mrs. Greer and Mabel McKissick, a school librarian, John Carroll, a book publisher, and New Jersey State Librarian Roger McDonough. In 1979, a new category was established to honor illustration.