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Thousands Gather to Bid Farewell to Coretta Scott King

February 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, farewell to Coretta Scott King.

Ten thousand people packed a church outside Atlanta for the six-hour long funeral of the first lady of the civil rights movement. Here are extended excerpts of that service.

CHOIR SINGING: You are the source of my strength – You are the strength of my life — I lift my hands —

BISHOP EDDIE LONG: It is truly an honor and tribute to her legacy that in this house, rarely assembled, you will find four presidents standing to honor. Hallelujah. And many others who have come, and paused at this moment.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In the critical hours of the civil rights movement, there were always men and women of conscience at the heart of the drama. But some had to leave before their time, and Dr. King left behind a grieving widow and little children. Rarely has so much been asked of a pastor’s wife, and rarely has so much been taken away.

Years later, Mrs. King recalled, “I would wake up in the morning, have my cry, then go in to them. The children saw me going forward.”

Martin Luther King Jr. had preached that unmerited suffering could have redemptive power. Little did he know that this great truth would be proven in the life of the person he loved the most. Others could cause her sorrow, but no one could make her bitter.

By going forward with a strong and forgiving heart, Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband’s legacy, she built her own.

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, Southern Christian Leadership Conference: I am neither gambler nor bettor, but who could have brought this crowd together except Coretta.

She extended Martin’s message against poverty, racism, and war.

She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar.

We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there, but Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here — millions without health insurance, poverty abounds; for war, billions more, but no more for the poor.

Well, Coretta had harsh critics, some no one could please. But she paid them no mind, she kept speaking for the least of these. Thank you, Lord. Just the other day I thought I heard you say, “Coretta, my child, come on home. You’ve earned your rest. Your body’s weary, you’ve done your best.”

MAYA ANGELOU: She was a quintessential African-American woman, born in the small-town repressive South; born of flesh and destined to become iron; born of cornflower and destined to become a steel magnolia.

I pledge to you, my sister, I will never cease – I mean to say, I want to see a better world. I mean to say I want to see some peace somewhere. I mean to say I want to see some honesty, some fair play. I want to see kindness and justice. This is what I want to see, and I want to see it through my eyes and through your eyes Coretta Scott King.

MAYA ANGELOU (Singing): I open my mouth to the Lord, and I won’t turn back no — I will go. I shall go. I’ll see what the end is going to be.

Thank you.

FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: The efforts of Martin and Coretta have changed America. They were not appreciated even at the highest level of government. It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance.

I would like to say to my sister, Coretta, that we will miss you, but our sorrow is alleviated by the knowledge that you and your husband are united in glory.

Thank you for what you’ve meant to me and to the world.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: There’s a lot to celebrate in this day.

Coretta lived a purposeful life, and how I loved visiting with her family just before this.

Marked by strife and turmoil, righteousness, and she endured the saddest of the human cruelties with greatest of grace — and by her steadfast determination, she helped to grind away the falsehoods and ignorance that had too long been used to divide our society.

Our world is a kinder and gentler place because of Coretta Scott King, and together with her husband, their unyielding moral force changed the course of history.

Lord knows, Coretta led the way, stared down the hate mongers, showed us how to reach the day — to use his expression — man as man, and that burden is now lifted, and Coretta has been called home to the Father.

We give thanks for her good life, a life that mattered, a life well lived. Thank you very much.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I don’t want us to forget that there’s a woman in there — not a symbol — a real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments. And I don’t want us to forget that.

You know, I’m sitting here thinking, I wish I knew what her kids were thinking about now. I wonder if they’re thinking about what I was thinking about at my mother’s funeral. Said all this grand stuff, I wonder if they’re thinking about when she used to read books to them or when she told them bible stories or what she said to them when their daddy got killed. We’re here to honor a person.

Fifty-four years ago, her about-to-be husband said that he was looking for a woman with character, intelligence, personality, and beauty, and she sure fit the bill.

REV. BERNICE KING, Coretta Scott King’s Daughter: So let everything right now that have breath praise thee Lord for the life of Coretta Scott King, a stalwart, a beacon of hope, a King in her own right, a woman of authority, a woman of power, a woman of grace, a woman of essence, a woman of strength, a woman of dignity.

We praise the Lord for Coretta Scott King and her example of life.

CHOIR SINGING: Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah —