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Political Barbs at Coretta Scott King's Funeral

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Political Barbs at Coretta Scott King's Funeral

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Political Barbs at Coretta Scott King's Funeral

Political Barbs at Coretta Scott King's Funeral

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At a five-hour funeral service for Coretta Scott King, presidents past and present lauded the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., for continuing her husband's legacy after the civil rights icon was slain in 1968. Some of the speakers took the opportunity to openly criticize President Bush's policies.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES, I'm Ed Gordon.

The body of Coretta Scott King has been placed in a mausoleum alongside that of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visitors to the King Center in Atlanta, which Mrs. King founded, will now be able to pay their respects to the preeminent couple of the civil rights movement. Mrs. King's life was celebrated in a huge funeral yesterday that lasted nearly six hours. Joshua Levs has this report.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

Ten thousand mourners, including a long list of dignitaries, packed into New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a 10,000-seat complex in Lithonia, Georgia, just east of Atlanta, Maya Angelou, who was close to Coretta Scott King, spoke of her absolute commitment to the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ms. MAYA ANGELOU (Poet/Author): She believed non-violent protest religiously to lift up a nation ripe with racial prejudices and racial bias. She was the quintessential African American woman, born in the small town repressive south, born of flesh and destined to become iron, born a cornflower and destined to become a steel magnolia.

LEVS: President Bush spoke of Coretta Scott King's resilience in the face of tragedy. He said she worked to make the nation whole.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: 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. (Applause)

LEVS: But the Rev. Joseph Lowery did not let anyone forget that Coretta Scott King disagreed with this president on major issues. Lowery co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. King.

Rev. JOSEPH LOWERY (Co-Founder, Southern Christian Leadership Conference): 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. (Applause)

LEVS: Many stood up applauding and cheering at the remark, as President Bush sat on the dais behind Lowery facing the audience.

Rev. LOWERY: But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here.

LEVS: No one received greater applause than former President Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and that led to a significant political moment. You can barely hear it in this clip, but someone in the audience yells the words "future president."

Mr. WILLIAM CLINTON (Former President): I'm honored to be here with my president and my former presidents, and uh...

LEVS: Mrs. Clinton simply smiled and soon motioned gently for the crowd to sit back down. Mr. Clinton focused his remarks on asking whether the nation will carry on the legacy of Coretta Scott King by continuing the fight for justice and equality.

Mr. CLINTON: What are we going to do? This is the first day of the rest of our lives, and we haven't finished our long journey home.

LEVS: The president and former presidents left partway through the service. At about five hours after it began, Bernice King delivered the eulogy. She's the youngest of the King children and a minister at New Birth Missionary. She described being with her mother the night she died, and said her mother was an example of the right way to live, by submitting to the will of God.

Rev. BERNICE KING (Daughter of Coretta Scott King): And if we would just begin to do that, this whole world would be transformed, as my father said, into an oasis of freedom and justice. Thank you, mother, for your incredible example of Christ-like love and obedience. We're going to miss you.

(Soundbite of song "Total Praise")

LEVS: For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs, in Atlanta.

(Soundbite of song "Total Praise")

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