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Body of Coretta Scott King laid to rest

Presidents, preachers, performers join farewells at funeral

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An Atlanta Police Department honor guard stands at attention in front of Coretta Scott King's tomb.

FUNERAL TRIBUTES

  • President Bush
  • Bill Clinton
  • George H.W. Bush
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Zanele Mbeki of South Africa
  • Maya Angelou, poet
  • Stevie Wonder, musician
  • RELATED

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    Coretta Scott King
    Civil Rights

    ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The body of Coretta Scott King was laid to rest Tuesday night after a funeral attended by presidents, poets and graying veterans of the civil rights movement she helped lead after her husband's assassination.

    President Bush and three of his predecessors -- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and his father, George H.W. Bush -- praised King for picking up the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s banner when he was killed in 1968.

    "She endured the saddest of human cruelties with the greatest of grace," the elder Bush told mourners at the 10,000-seat New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, where the youngest of the Kings' four children, Bernice, is a minister.

    "By her steadfast determination, she helped to grind away falsehoods and ignorance that had too long been used to divide our society." (Watch the elder Bush praise a 'purposeful life' -- 0:37)

    The six-hour service was capped by a eulogy from Bernice King, who was 5 when her father was assassinated.

    "Thank you, mother, for your incredible example of Christ-like love and obedience. We're going to miss you," she said.

    Flags at federal facilities flew at half-staff to honor King, a tribute bestowed Monday by the current president, who said he brought the "sympathy of our nation" to the funeral.

    "We knew her husband only as a young man," Bush said. "But we knew Mrs. King in all the seasons of her life, and there was grace and beauty in every season."

    King, 78, died January 30 at a clinic in Mexico, where she had sought alternative treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. She had suffered a severe stroke and a mild heart attack in August. (Full story)

    More than 115,000 people filed past King's open coffin Monday during a public viewing at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her husband and his father had preached. The historic church is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. (Read what mourners said about her)

    More than 40,000 others viewed her body as it lay in repose in the rotunda of the Georgia Capitol, the first woman and the first African-American given such an honor. (Gallery)

    After Tuesday's funeral, a hearse brought her coffin to the King Center, which she founded to continue her husband's legacy. His body lies in a marble crypt at the center, and her body will be kept in a temporary tomb at the facility until a permanent one can be built alongside his.

    Political edge

    The service Tuesday featured tributes from political leaders, longtime friends and celebrities, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy; poet Maya Angelou; singer Stevie Wonder; and Joseph Lowery, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, onetime lieutenants of the slain civil rights leader.

    Parts of the service had a political edge as well, with pointed reminders of King's advocacy of nonviolence and occasional jabs at the nearly three-year-old war in Iraq.

    Noting the praise showered on King by the many leaders present, Lowery said, "Will words become deeds that meet needs?"

    "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there," he said in a boisterous, rhyming oration. "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."

    Lowery's remarks and other barbs were met with bursts of applause. President Bush stood and embraced Lowery with a smile at the end of his comments.

    Carter said the support of King and other civil rights figures in 1976 "legitimized a Southern governor as an acceptable candidate for president."

    "The efforts of Martin and Coretta have changed America," he said, noting "they were not appreciated even at the highest level of government."

    "It was difficult for them personally, with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping," he said.

    Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin harkened back to King's training as a singer. She said King had joined a heavenly "freedom choir" of figures without whom, she said, she never could have become Atlanta's first black, female mayor.

    "The last stanza and the highest note of Coretta King's freedom song remains to be sung," she said. "She's gathered us here today from all walks of life and all persuasions to lift our voices in songs of freedom, equality, social and economic justice."

    'She uplifted people'

    Former President Clinton, who traveled with the current president aboard Air Force One to Atlanta, received a rousing ovation when introduced.

    In his remarks, Clinton challenged those present to carry on the Kings' legacy, just as he said Mrs. King did for her husband.

    "What really matters if you believe all this stuff we've been saying is, what are we going to do with the rest of our lives?" he said.

    Angelou recalled King as a friend who would call her on her birthday, April 4, the date her husband was assassinated.

    "She uplifted people and causes," Angelou told CNN on Tuesday. "I would be kind of down in the dumps and refusing to have a party because Dr. King was assassinated on my birthday."

    "She'd call me up and say, 'Girrrrl' ... when we were well into our 70s she'd say, 'The sun is shining outside' ... and before you know it, we'd both be laughing, or at least I'd be in a better mood." (Watch Angelou and Sharpton discuss how King affected them -- 6:21)

    Funeral-goers were met outside the church by a protest by members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The Topeka, Kansas-based congregation is known for its anti-gay stands and frequently pickets the funerals of people supportive of gay rights, as Mrs. King was.

    CNN's Rusty Dornin and John Murgatroyd contributed to this report.

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