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Last Tributes to Coretta Scott King: Maya Angelou, Rev. Lowery, Pres. Jimmy Carter, Bernice King Remember Civil Rights Pioneer

StoryFebruary 08, 2006
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An estimated 10,000 people attended the funeral of civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King in Georgia, including four U.S. Presidents, prominent activists, artists, political leaders, musicians and public figures. We play excerpts of Bernice King’s eulogy, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, Maya Angelou, and former President Jimmy Carter speaking. [includes rush transcript]

Among the mourners were family members and friends as well as four U.S. presidents. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton joined President Bush and fourteen U.S. senators. Also in attendance was Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder.

King died January 30th at the age of 78 after seeking treatment in Mexico for ovarian cancer. She had just recently suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack.

Throughout the 40 years following the assassination of her husband, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was an outspoken opponent of injustices ranging from capital punishment to apartheid in South Africa. She was also a vocal advocate of women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and HIV/AIDS prevention. In 2003, King also spoke out against the war in Iraq.

At yesterday’s funeral, both Former President Jimmy Carter and the former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Joseph Lowery, made pointed criticism of the Bush administration’s policies. They cited the war in Iraq, civil liberties transgressions and accused the president of ignoring the plight of the U.S. poor.

President George W. Bush was one of the first of the 39 speakers to take the podium at yesterday’s funeral.

He was followed by Reverend Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King. He made a subtle attack on the Bush administration’s war on Iraq and cuts on social programs.

  • Reverend Joseph Lowery, speaking at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.

The poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou spoke at the funeral yesterday. She was a good friend of Coretta Scott King.

  • Maya Angelou, poet, writer, activist.

President Jimmy Carter spoke after Maya Angelou. In his speech he made reference to government spying that the Kings endured and continued racial injustice evidenced by the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

  • President Jimmy Carter

Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Coretta and Martin Luther King, delivered the eulogy. She began by talking about the day her mother died.

  • Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin and Coretta Scott King, delivering the eulogy at her mother’s funeral.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Joseph Lowery. Co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership conference with Dr. Martin Luther King and made a subtle attack on the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and cuts in social programs.

REVEREND JOSEPH LOWERY: What a family reunion. Rosa and Martin reminiscing, they had just begun to talk, when Martin seemed not to listen. He started to walk. The wind had whispered in his ear. “I believe somebody is almost here. Excuse me, Rosa,” Martin said as he did depart, his soles on fire, he just couldn’t wait. His spirit leaped with joy as he moved toward the pearly gates. Glory, glory, hallelujah. After forty years, almost forty years, together at last, together at last, thank God Almighty, together at last!

Thank you, Coretta. Didn’t she carry her grief with dignity? Her growing influence with humility? She secured his seed, nurtured his nobility. She declared humanity’s worth, invented their vision, his and hers, for peace in all the earth. She opposed discrimination based on race. She frowned on homophobia, and gender bias, she rejected on its face. She summoned the nations to study war no more. She embraced the wonders of a human family from shore to shore. Excuse me, Maya.

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 know, 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. As we get older, or so I’m told, we listen in to heaven like the prophets of old. I heard Martin and Coretta say, “do us a favor, Joe, those four little children I spoke of in 1963, they are fine adults now, as all can see. They already know but tell them again. We love them so dear. Assure them we will always be near. Their troubles to bless and sanctify to them their deepest distress. Tell them we believe in them as we know you do. We know their faith in god and their love for each other will see them through. Assure them at the end of the tunnel awaits god’s light and we are confident they will always strive for the right. Tell them don’t forget to remember that we are as near as their prayer — and never as far and we can rest in peace because they know who and whose they are.”

What a family reunion. 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 is weary. You have done your best. Her Witness and character always strong. Her spirit, her melody from heaven’s song, her beauty warms like the rays of the sun. Good night, my sister. Well done, well done.

AMY GOODMAN: Writer, activist, poet Maya Angelou also spoke.

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 (reprint with permission only). [speaking] In the midst of national tumult, in the medium of international violent uproar, Coretta Scott King’s face remained a study in serenity. In times of interior violent storms, she sat her hands resting in her lap calmly. Like good children sleeping. Her passion was never spent in public display. She offered her industry and her energies to action toward righting ancient and current wrongs in this world. She believed religiously in non-violent protest. She believed it could heal a nation mired in a history of slavery, and all its excesses. She believed non-violence protests, religiously, could lift up a nation rife with racial prejudices and racial bias.

She was a quintessential African-American woman. Born in the small town, repressive South. Born of flesh and destined to become iron. Born a corn flower and destined to become a steel magnolia. She loved her church fervently. She loved and adored her husband and her children. She cherished her race. She cherished women. She cared for the conditions of human beings, of Native Americans and Latin — Latino and Asian Americans. She cared for gay and straight people. She was concerned for the struggles in Ireland and she prayed nightly for Palestine and equally for Israel.

I speak as a sister of a sister. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on my birthday. And for over thirty years, Coretta Scott King and I have telephoned, or sent cards to each other, or flowers to each other, or met each other somewhere in the world. We called ourselves chosen sisters. And when we traveled to South Africa, or to the Caribbean, or when she came to visit me in North Carolina, or in New York. We sat into the late evening hours calling each other “girl”— that’s a black woman thing, you know. And even as we reached well into our 7th decade, we still said “girl.”

I stand here today for her family, which is my family, and for my family and all the other families in the world who would want to be here but could not be here. I have here beside me millions of people who are living and standing straight and erect and knowing something about dignity without being cold and aloof, knowing something about being contained, without being unapproachable. People who have learned something from Coretta Scott King, I stand here for Eleanor Traylor and Harry Belafonte and I stand here for Winnie Mandela. I stand here for women and men who loved her. Dinky Romilly.

On those late nights when Coretta and I would talk, I would make her laugh. And she said that Martin King used to tell her, “You don’t laugh enough.” And there’s a recent book out about sisters in which she spoke about her blood sister. But at the end of her essay, she said, “I did have—I do have a chosen sister, Maya Angelou, who makes me laugh even when I don’t want to.” And it’s true. I told her some jokes only for no mixed company. Many times on those late evenings, she would say to me, “Sister, it shouldn’t be an either-or, should it? Peace and justice should belong to all people, everywhere, all the time. Isn’t that right?” And I said then, and I say now, “Coretta Scott King, you’re absolutely right. I do believe that peace and justice should belong to every person, everywhere, all the time.”

And those of us who gather here—principalities, presidents, senators—those of us who run great companies, who know something about being parents, who know something about being preachers and teachers, those of us, we owe something from this minute on, so that this gathering is not just another footnote on the pages of history. We owe something. 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. [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.

AMY GOODMAN:Maya Angelou. Poet, writer, leader. Speaking at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also spoke.

JIMMY CARTER: My life has been closely intertwined with that of the King family. Our first ceremony together was in 1974, when as governor, I dedicated Martin’s portrait in the Georgia capitol. Joe Lowery and others were there. Which was surrounded outside with chanting members of the Ku Klux Klan who had too much support from other Americans. The efforts of Martin and Coretta have changed America. They were not appreciated even at the highest level of government. It was difficult for her then, personally. With the civil liberties of husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, and other surveillance. And as you know, her harassment from the F.B.I. This commemorative ceremony this morning and this afternoon is no only to acknowledge the great contributions of Coretta and Martin, but to remind us that the struggle for equal rights is not over.

We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Those who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans. It is our responsibility to continue their crusade. I would like to say to my sister Coretta that we will miss you, But our sorrow is alleviated by knowledge, that you and your husband are united in glory. Thank you for what you have meant to me and the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Former President Jimmy Carter. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Coretta Scott King, delivered the eulogy.

BERNICE KING: It wasn’t the stroke that took her, in the natural sense of the word. But it was the complications from ovarian cancer which caused respiratory pneumonia that took her. The Lord had me look back on that and he took me to a scripture. Where a man of the Pharisee’s name Nicodemus. A ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus at nighttime. And he said, “Rabbi, we know that you’re a teacher come from God. No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born again, he cannot— she cannot see the Kingdom of God.” I said, “God, why are you taking me there?”

He said, “Because it is no accident or mistake that the very thing that took your mother out here, ovarian cancer, is a message that emerges from that kind of death for people all over the nation for such a time as this. For you see, her cancer, in other words, was concentrated in the reproductive area. The reproductive system.” And God took me back to there and he showed me how the cancer was growing in that reproductive area and it was beginning to affect other organs in that vicinity. He reminded me, he said, your mother passed away of complications from ovarian cancer, respiratory pneumonia, because right now my Earth, my world, my nations are on the verge of losing and dying and being overtaken with respiratory pneumonia failure because of complications from reproductive cancer. And those complications are hindering the ability for a new birth.

See what God is saying to us today through the transition of Coretta Scott King is that we, here in this world right now, are suffering from complications, of cancer from materialism and greed and selfishness and arrogance, and elitism, and poverty, and racism, and perversion, and obscenity, and misogyny, and idolatry, and militarism, and violence, and it is a cancer that’s eating away at the very essence and nation of what God created of human kind to be— for he created us! To have ruler ship and dominion in the Earth and not allow the Earth to dictate to us. But now what has happened is that the very Earth, the very creation that he put us in charge of is now controlling us. And instead of us reproducing other people who look like God, who talk like God, who act like God, who think like God, who do business like God, who govern like God, who entertain like God, we are not reproducing anything because the cancer is eating away at us.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernice King. The youngest daughter of Coretta and Martin Luther King. At the funeral of Coretta Scott King.

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