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Masses honor King at public viewings

Thousands line up in cold to view 'royalty for the black community'

By Jeff Green
CNN

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Coretta Scott King
Atlanta (Georgia)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- With four U.S. presidents among the luminaries at Coretta Scott King's funeral Tuesday, the service and a series of viewings also offered a chance for tens of thousands of everyday people to pay their respects.

Mourners began lining up in the early morning hours Tuesday for the third and final viewing, this one at the 10,000-seat New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, where the afternoon funeral was held.

King's daughter, Bernice, serves as a minister at the church, where seats for the service were available for members of the public who arrived early. One woman from nearby Conyers said she arrived at 3 a.m.

"I wanted to be a part of history because of what Mrs. King and her husband did for us," she said. (Hear remarks from early arrivals)

Schools closed for the day in DeKalb County, where the church is located. The sunny but cool weather was more cooperative than it had been Monday, when tens of thousands waited in line for hours late into the night on Atlanta's cold sidewalks to pay their final respects.

King, 78, died January 30 at a clinic in Mexico, where she had sought alternative treatment for ovarian cancer. (Read her obituary)

Her body went on public view Monday morning at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, where her late husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., preached before his assassination in 1968.

Standing in front of the church late Monday, the Rev. Rodney Green praised King as "the first lady of the Afro-American community."

Calling himself "The Parking Lot Pastor," Green said he drove more than six hours from Durham, North Carolina, to pay his respects.

Green said the NAACP and religious organizations will help carry on the Kings' legacy.

"We've got to feed the homeless, help the poor," he said. "They were all about trying to help poor people, the little people, the people who couldn't help themselves."

"It's way after our bedtime, but we're happy to be here," said Green, who was traveling with the Rev. Charles Smith, president of the Durham chapter of the NAACP.

They arrived too late to view King's body, but planned to try again starting at 5 a.m. Tuesday in Lithonia. (Full story on funeral)

"I won't get too much sleep, which for this trip doesn't matter," Smith said.

'I'm choking up'

With a bundled-up 3-year-old perched on her shoulders, Rhonda Allen of nearby Stone Mountain praised King as "a remarkable woman" and said she was inspired by the large turnout.

"The least I can do is stand up in this line, in this cold, in this rain, with my young daughter," she said. "Now that I'm about to go in, I'm choking up." (Quote gallery)

More than 115,000 people filed past King's open coffin Monday, according to the National Park Service.

Gordon Wissinger of the Park Service estimated that the line, which wrapped around several city blocks, reached close to a mile in length.

"The crowd has been absolutely marvelous in how they've dealt with the weather and the wait," he said.

The historic church is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site, which the Park Service oversees.

The number of mourners Monday exceeded the 42,000 people who viewed King's body Saturday as she lay in repose in the rotunda of the Georgia Capitol, the first black woman given such an honor.

The tribute differed sharply from when then-Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox refused to honor her husband after his assassination.

Oprah Winfrey was among those who honored King Monday during a musical tribute inside the new Ebenezer sanctuary, across the street from the historic church. (Watch Winfrey honor King as "the queen" --- 9:30)

Hours later, with midnight approaching, George Lovelace of Marietta said the gathered masses reflected "the greatness of the lady."

King was "close to royalty for the black community," he said, praising "how she followed her husband's dreams and what he wanted to do, and made it happen."

Among her accomplishments, he said, was helping to establish a federal holiday for her late husband and pushing for the construction of the King Center.

Juanita West of Atlanta hailed King as "a role model for everybody."

"I just respected her work and what she stood for. She remained faithful to [her husband] even after his death."

End of the line

Farther back in the line, Demetra Green, an Atlanta travel consultant, said she had befriended musician Steve Jacobs during their three hours together in the damp, 40-degree weather.

"We're meeting people that continue to live the dream by coming together, not by the color of our skin but by their character," she said. "The King family has set an example for us."

Jacobs said that Mrs. King "stood for a lot of great things."

"The more equal freedoms that all minorities have, I think the more freedom that America can have, and the more truly united it can be," he said.

DeNorris Turner, a student at Georgia State University, said it was "kind of an honor" to be the last person allowed to join the line before it was cut off around 11 p.m. He was one of many who said they felt a personal connection with the King family.

"My late mother, she got a chance to meet Mrs. King, and it touched her," he said, adding that he had gone to school with Bernice King.

Coming out of the church, Sandra Mundy said she also felt a kinship growing up in Atlanta near the King children, and as an adult she looked up to Mrs. King as a fellow single mother.

"I can't even compare the things that I go through as being a single parent with what she went through," Mundy said.

Accompanied by her sister, Debra, and young daughter, Layla, Mundy said she was about Layla's age when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Recalling the sadness of the adults in her family at the time, she said, "Now I understand their pain."

Mundy said she brought her daughter "to share the experience of a great person, of a lady that fought side by side with her husband."

James Joseph of Decatur emerged from the church with his wife, Acola, calling the mood inside "somber" and his few moments there "humbling."

He spoke just steps away from the crypt that is to be Mrs. King's final resting place, near her husband's tomb, with an eternal flame burning between them.

CNN's Robert Johnson contributed to this report.

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