Paying Tribute to Coretta Scott King Crowds of mourners have paid tribute to Coretta Scott King at the Georgia State House in Atlanta. The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, a powerful civil rights activist in her own right, will be buried Tuesday.

Paying Tribute to Coretta Scott King

Paying Tribute to Coretta Scott King

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Crowds of mourners have paid tribute to Coretta Scott King at the Georgia State House in Atlanta. The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, a powerful civil rights activist in her own right, will be buried Tuesday.


In Atlanta this weekend, thousands of mourners filed past the body of Coretta Scott King. The widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., died this past week at the age of 78.

In death, as in life, Mrs. King helped to make history. She is the first woman, and the first African-American, to lie in honor in the Georgia capital building.

Mrs. King's casket was taken by a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Atlanta yesterday, and then to the Capital rotunda. Joshua Levs spoke with mourners about what drew them to the viewing, and what Coretta Scott King meant to them.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

It was a cold morning for Atlanta, with temperatures in the low 40's. But thousands of people stood outside the Capital, hours before the doors opened, waiting for their chance to visit the body of Coretta Scott King.

Ms. QUELLA RASHEED(ph): The ultimate respect.

LEVS: Quella Rasheedy, 30 years old, originally from Oklahoma, is one of many who sees King as a matriarch of the civil rights movement.

RASHEEDY: I mean for me to even be able to stand here today is due to the things, the sacrifices that they made, you know, during the 1960's. And I never had a chance to meet her, but it's just like, I mean the things she's done throughout the years, it just kind of makes me feel like that's, you know, my ancestor, my grandmother. I should be here without any second thought.

LEVS: Others knew the woman behind the symbol. Cynthia Williams, who's in her 60's, worked with Mrs. King on community service and voter registration programs.

Ms. CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: She was very warm and very caring about those of us who were peons, more or less, under her, because of the things that we were doing for the community. A very, very warm, friendly person.

LEVS: Williams says that warmth helped inspire people to join in civil rights efforts. In recent years, the King family has come under criticism over how the King Center is run, but people in line at the Capital said that never tempered their respect or admiration for Coretta Scott King. And many said her death is a major moment in history.

That's why Andrew Whittingham(ph) brought his three young children.

Mr. ANDREW WHITTINGHAM: They'll never forget this day. This day will stay in their minds. When they grow older they'll remember that they paid respect to Mrs. King. It's part of history.

LEVS: Nearly all of the first several thousand people on line were black. But among them was 43-year-old Francis McNulty(ph), who grew up poor in Kentucky, the one white family in her school. She says she watched Coretta Scott King carry on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and help improve conditions throughout the United States.

Ms. FRANCIS MCNULTY: Mrs. King was an amazing woman, both in her own right and as Dr. King's wife, who led, just led every struggle she could for equality, for everybody, not, for, for all races, all genders. I mean she just was there for everybody.

LEVS: 36-year-old Anthony Ricciardi(ph) appreciates something Coretta Scott King adopted as a central part of her platform in recent years.

Mr. ANTHONY RICCIARDI: I'm a gay man and she's had the courage to say that the gay rights movement is part of the civil rights movement. And I have a lot of respect for her and admire everything that she stood for. So I wanted to come and pay my respects to her.

LEVS: As the crowd waited for its chance to pay respects, 77-yer-old Willie Coger(ph) stood quietly, looking at the shut down streets, the police presence, the helicopters overhead. He had been at Martin Luther King's march on Washington in 1963, and he remembers the assassination.

Dr. King's death received no such fanfare from the state government.

Mr. WILLIE COGER: We came a long ways, but we have a little ways to go.

LEVS: Coger drove in from Columbia, South Carolina. He says Coretta Scott King was courageous and stood for the never-ending fight for equality. Others, he says, will continue to struggle.

COGER: Someone will always rise up, maybe another King, who knows? But regardless what their name is, they carry on the legacy.

LEVS: There will be another public viewing Monday at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. The funeral will take place Tuesday, at a huge suburban Atlanta church, where Bernice King, the youngest of the four King children, is a minister.

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

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