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The 10,000-seat capacity of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church cathedral was inadequate to contain all the music, tearful anecdotes, and presidential tributes offered for Coretta Scott King, an aspiring opera singer who laid aside her own desires to become the first lady of the civil rights movement. With her style, charm, and grace, she impacted generations.
Born April 27, 1927, in Heiberger, Alabama, she married Martin Luther King Jr. in 1953 and shortly thereafter moved to Montgomery, where King’s ministry was founded.
During the civil rights movement, Scott King was often seen beside her husband attending freedom marches, traveling abroad, and giving speeches. After her husband’s death in 1968, Scott King continued to champion the causes of African Americans: equality, peace, and economic justice. During the service, former President Bill Clinton said that the world would have understood if she had retreated to private life to raise her four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter, and Bernice, but instead she established the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta and spearheaded the movement that led to King’s birthday being declared a national holiday in 1986.
Scott King’s death came during a time when the King family was embroiled in an internal dispute over the possible sale of the King Center to the National Park Service, which is adjacent to where Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King are now entombed, for an estimated $11 million.
“The legacy of Mrs. King and Dr. King are so intertwined it should be part of the Park Service,” says Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who says the facility needs to be preserved for posterity. “Let the government take care of it because the government is not going to go out of business.”
The funeral concluded with a four-day celebration that included Scott King’s body lying in honor in the Georgia State Capitol. There were also celebrations at New Birth and Ebenezer Baptist Church where musical selections and tributes were offered by Gladys Knight, Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, and CeCe Winans.
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Martin Luther King III said in an interview that it was important that the public got the chance to view his mother’s open casket in the Capitol, at Ebenezer, and at New Birth because, “She was a bridge builder who built a major institution that transcended the world.”
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young says that it was important to honor Scott King because she was much more than the wife of a famous man. “What she talked about was overcoming hatred with love.”
Young also says considering what Scott King experienced, she was a model of self-restraint. “Before she met Martin King her father had three businesses destroyed, but she kept her dignity through it all.”
Bishop T.D. Jakes said in an interview that his mother and Scott King attended the same school in Marion, Alabama, and for her entire life, “She stood with dignity and poise. She was the first lady of the civil rights movement.”
Former Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rev. C.T. Vivian, and