'When She Spoke, Americans Listened'

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
Four former U.S. presidents, senators and celebrities joined thousands of mourners at a church in suburban Atlanta Tuesday to say a final goodbye to civil rights icon Coretta Scott King.

President Bush remembered King (video) as a "kind and gentle woman" who "became one of the most admired Americans of our time."

"I've come today to offer the sympathy of our entire nation at the passing of a woman who worked to make our nation whole," President Bush told King's four children and the crowd that filled New Birth Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband's legacy, she built her own," Mr. Bush said. "Having loved a leader, she became a leader, and when she spoke, Americans listened closely."

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin stressed that King spoke out, not just against racism, but about "the senselessness of war and the solutions for poverty."

"She sang for liberation, she sang for those who had no earthly reason to sing a song," with a voice that was heard "from the tintop roofs of Soweto to the bomb shelters of Baghdad," Franklin said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter echoed that theme of a peaceful struggle for justice in a service that grew increasing political as other leaders questioned what the Bush administration was doing to continue the Kings' dream.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., spoke directly to the current administration's foreign and domestic policies.

"Our marvelous presidents and governors come to mourn and praise ... but in the morning will words become deeds that meet need?" Lowery asked.

"For war, billions more, but no more for the poor," he said, in a take-off of a lyric from Stevie Wonder's song "A Time to Love," which drew a roaring standing ovation. The comments drew head shakes from Bush and his father as they sat behind the pulpit.

Coretta Scott King, who carried on her husband's dream of equality for nearly 40 years after his death, died Jan. 30 at the age of 78 after battling ovarian cancer and the effects of a stroke.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, poet Maya Angelou and the Kings' children were also among the more than three dozen speakers during the funeral.

The eulogy fell to the Kings' youngest child, Bernice, a minister at the megachurch. She was 5-years-old when her father was assassinated in 1968 and is perhaps best remembered for the photographs of her lying in her black-veiled mother's lap during her father's funeral. Stevie Wonder and Bebe and Cece Winans were also slated to perform.