Thousands in Atlanta pay tribute to Mrs. King
Bush, Clinton to be at her funeral today
ATLANTA -- Thousands of mourners filed past the casket of Coretta Scott King yesterday, paying their respects to the ''first lady of the civil rights movement" at the historic church where her husband shared his dream for racial equality in the 1960s.
People lined up for blocks outside Ebenezer Baptist Church, waiting for hours in freezing rain for a moment to bid farewell to the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Across the street, at least 1,000 people filled the church's newer facility for a musical tribute, including Oprah Winfrey and other entertainers such as Gladys Knight.
''For me, she embodied royalty," Winfrey said. ''You knew she was a force."
Winfrey laughed as she described persuading Mrs. King to get a new hairdo on her TV show. And she became emotional when she told how Mrs. King, in the week before her death, sent her a handmade quilt from her husband's mother.
''She leaves us all a better America than the America of her childhood," Winfrey said.
Mrs. King, 78, died Jan. 30 at an alternative medicine clinic in Mexico, where doctors said she was battling advanced ovarian cancer. She also had been recovering from a serious stroke and heart attack.
As the service concluded, Mrs. King's eldest daughter, Yolanda King, told the gathering: ''I know it is the prayers of so many of you and from all over the world that carried her safely home. We knew firsthand the enduring power of love."
Inside the silent sanctuary, mourners filed slowly past the casket, some lingering a moment. A shroud of flowers blanketed the lower half of the casket, and wreaths were decorated with roses, Mrs. King's favorite flower.
Mary Howard-Hamilton, a college professor from Bloomington, Ind., drove eight hours to Atlanta and then stood in the rain for five more to be among the first to view Mrs. King's body at the church.
''It's almost like the torch was passed when I walked past her," said Howard-Hamilton, 51. ''I felt empowered. I'm going to step up now. This fight's not over."
At least 6,000 adults and children passed through the sanctuary in the first three hours, officials said.
During the weekend, some 42,000 mourners walked past Mrs. King's open casket at the state Capitol, where she became the first woman and the first black person to lie in honor there. It was a striking contrast to the official snub her slain husband had been given in 1968 by Governor Lester Maddox, an outspoken segregationist.
Presidents Bush and Clinton lead the list of dignitaries expected to attend her funeral today at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a 10,000-seat church in Lithonia where the Kings' youngest child, Bernice, is a minister.
Civil rights leaders also planned to memorialize Mrs. King during a service last night that was to include the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, US Representative John Lewis, and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young.
Mrs. King's body will be placed in a temporary mausoleum about 100 feet from her husband's tomb until a permanent one can be built next to his. Workers erected the temporary structure yesterday at the King Center, which was started by Mrs. King in memory of her husband. Brandon Shields, president and owner of Marietta-based Roberts-Shields Memorial Co., said the temporary mausoleum, made of white Georgia marble, will be ready for Mrs. King's body after her funeral.