'She Is Deeply Missed'

President Bush leads Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y, former President Bill Clinton, former President George H. W. Bush, and former President Jimmy Carter through the crowd at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006. They were attending the funeral services for Coretta Scott King. AP

Ten thousand mourners — including four U.S. presidents, numerous members of Congress and many gray-haired veterans of the civil rights movement — said goodbye to Coretta Scott King on Tuesday, with President Bush saluting her as "a woman who worked to make our nation whole."

The immense crowd filled the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a modern, arena-style megachurch in a suburban Atlanta county that was once a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan but today has one of the most affluent black populations in the country.

More than three dozen speakers at the funeral took turns remembering the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who worked to realize her husband's dream of equality for nearly 40 years after his assassination. She died Jan. 30 at age 78 after battling ovarian cancer and the effects of a stroke.

The president ordered flags flown at half-staff across the country, and told the crowd, "she is rightly mourned, and she is deeply missed."

"Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband's legacy, she built her own," Bush told the crowd (video) . "Having loved a leader, she became a leader, and when she spoke, Americans listened closely."

Former President Clinton urged mourners to follow in her footsteps, honor her husband's sacrifice and help the couple's children fulfill their parents' legacy. Former President Bush said the "world is a kinder and gentler place because of Coretta Scott King." President Carter praised the Kings for their ability to "wage a fierce struggle for freedom and justice and to do it peacefully."

The funeral at times turned political, with some speakers decrying the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's eavesdropping program, and the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in mostly black New Orleans.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., drew a roaring standing ovation when he said: "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor" — a takeoff on a line from a Stevie Wonder song. The comment drew head shakes from Bush and his father as they sat behind the pulpit.

The lavish service stood in sharp contrast to the 1968 funeral for King's husband. President Lyndon B. Johnson did not attend those services, which were held in the much smaller and older Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, where King had preached.

  • Melissa McNamara

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