Dozens of national luminaries, including four of the five living presidents, attended the Feb. 8 funeral of Coretta Scott King, widow of civil-rights giant Martin Luther King Jr.
President Bush and three of his predecessors—Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and his own father, George H.W. Bush—praised Mrs. King for taking up her husband's banner after his assassination in 1968, CNN.com reported. 'she endured the saddest of human cruelties with the greatest of grace,' the elder Bush told mourners at the 10,000-seat New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., where the youngest of the Kings' four children, Bernice, is a minister. Other prominent people who attended included poet and educator Maya Angelou; singer Stevie Wonder; and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
Politics played a role during the service, a development that was perhaps not unexpected in light of the many leaders present. Joseph Lowery, the former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was once headed by Dr. King, read a sharp-edged poem that praised Mrs. King and cut at the current president, TIME.com reported. 'Coretta knew, and we knew, there were no weapons of mass destruction over there but there were weapons of misdirection right down here,' he orated to thunderous applause.
Carter seemed to take a couple of jabs at the younger Bush, noting the 'forgotten' survivors of Hurricane Katrina and excoriating the 'secret government wiretapping' that Dr. King endured.
However, most of the speakers took time to paint Mrs. King as a role model who cared for everyone. Angelou, in typical articulate fashion, said that Mrs. King 'cherished her race. She cherished women. She cared for gay and straight people. She prayed nightly for Palestine and equally for Israel.'
The six-hour service was capped by a eulogy from Bernice King, who was five years old when her father was assassinated. 'Thank you, mother, for your incredible example of Christ-like love and obedience. We're going to miss you,' she said.
Unfortunately for the mourners, protesters were also present. Camped out on the grass next to the church's stone-carved sign, members of Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan.—who have achieved notoriety by protesting at the funeral of slain gay college student Matthew Shepherd and the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq—held signs that read Mrs. King was in hell because she was a 'fag enabler' who advocated for gay rights, according to HoustonVoice.com .
Tens of thousands lined the streets the previous day outside Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr., and his father had preached, as her body was on public display. Many huddled under umbrellas in a cold drizzle well into the night.
Mrs. King died Jan. 30 at an alternative medicine clinic in Mexico, WWMT.com reported. Doctors said she was battling advanced ovarian cancer. She also had been recovering from a serious stroke and heart attack.