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Tributes For Coretta Scott King

The body of Coretta Scott King arrived in her hometown of Atlanta early Wednesday as tributes poured in for the civil rights icon who died Tuesday at the age of 78.

Four police cars escorted the hearse with King's body to the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home, located on a street named for the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, the former right-hand man of King's husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Michael Anderson, an attendant at the funeral home, told The Associated Press that no funeral arrangements had yet been made for the woman called the "first lady of the civil rights movement."

King died Tuesday at an alternative medicine clinic in Mexico. Doctors at the clinic said she was battling advanced ovarian cancer when she arrived Thursday. They said the cause of death was respiratory failure.

She is survived by her four grown children, Dexter, Martin Luther III, Yolanda and Bernice. Flags flew at half staff at government buildings in Georgia.

President Bush honored King in his State of the Union address Tuesday night as a "beloved, graceful, courageous" woman who he said carried on a "noble dream."

King stood by her husband's side during the '50s and '60s and after his assassination in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, became a powerful civil rights advocate in her own right.

"This woman must be looked up as one of these founding mothers of the new America," longtime family friend Congressman Joe Lewis told CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts. "She helped to liberate us all."

The Rev. Al Sharpton said, "She was truly the first lady of the human rights movement. The only thing worse than losing her is if we never had her."

King worked to keep her husband's ideology of equality for all people at the forefront of the nation's agenda. She goaded and pushed for more than a decade to have her husband's birthday observed as a national holiday, then watched with pride in 1983 as President Reagan signed the bill into law. The first federal holiday was celebrated in 1986.

She became a symbol of her husband's struggle for peace and brotherhood, presiding with a quiet, steady, stoic presence over seminars and conferences on global issues.


"I'm more determined than ever that my husband's dream will become a reality," King said soon after his slaying, a demonstration of the strong will that lay beneath the placid calm and dignity of her character.

Sen. Barak Obama, D-Ill., told CBS News that without people like Coretta Scott King, he would not be where he is today.

"She really was not just the wife of MLK, she was his full partner, and carried on that legacy after his death in a remarkable way," Obama said.

King was born April 27, 1927, in Perry County, Ala. Her father ran a country store. To help her family during the Depression, young Coretta picked cotton.

She was studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music and planning on a singing career when a friend introduced her to Martin Luther King, a young Baptist minister working toward a Ph.D. at Boston University.

She recalled that on their first date, he told her, "You know, you have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday." Eighteen months later — June 18, 1953 — they did, in the garden of her parents' home in Marion, Ala.

The couple then moved to Montgomery, Ala., where King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and organized the famed Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. With that campaign, King began enacting his philosophy of direct social action.

During the years, King was with her husband in his finest hours. She was at his side as he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Sporting flat-heeled shoes, King marched beside her husband from Selma, Ala., into Montgomery in 1965 for the triumphal climax to his drive for a voting rights law.

Trained in music, she sang in many concerts and narrated civil rights history to raise money for the cause.

Only days after his death, she flew to Memphis with three of her children to lead the march of thousands in honor of her slain husband and to plead for his cause. Her unfaltering composure and controlled grief during those days stirred the hearts of millions.

"I think you rise to the occasion in a crisis," she once said. "I think the Lord gives you strength when you need it. God was using us — and now he's using me, too."

She said her life without her husband, though drastically changed, was immensely fulfilling.

"It's a fulfilling life in so many ways, in terms of the children, the nonviolent civil rights cause and in the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial center," she said.

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