Mourners pay respect to King

By Errin Haines The Associated Press

ATLANTA – Thousands of mourners filed past the casket of Coretta Scott King on 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. She was the queen,” Winfrey said. “You knew she was a force.”

Winfrey laughed as she described persuading King to get a new hairdo on her TV show. And she became emotional when she told how King, in the week before her death, sent her a handmade quilt that her husband’s mother had passed down.

“She leaves us all a better America than the America of her childhood,” Winfrey said.

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, 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 before moving on. A shroud of flowers blanketed the lower half of the casket, and wreaths stood on either side, decorated with roses, 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 King’s body at the church.

“It’s almost like the torch was passed when I walked past her,” Howard-Hamilton, 51, said. “I felt empowered. I’m gonna step up now. This fight’s not over.”