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Thousands bid farewell to Martin Luther's widow

February 08, 2006 11:52 IST

Four Presidents of the United States - George W Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H W Bush - joined thousands of mourners in Atlanta to bid goodbye to Coretta Scott King, the widow of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

King, who died at the age of 78 after battling ovarian cancer and effects of a stroke on January 30, was given a fond farewell on Tuesday with soulful hymns and lively orations.

"Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband's legacy, she built her own," President George W Bush told the crowd. "Having loved a leader, she became a leader, and when she spoke, Americans listened closely," he added.

The eulogy at the funeral did turn political at times with former President Jimmy Carter taking a jab at the present policies of the administration, especially as it pertained to the eavesdropping programme and the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina that savaged the mostly black-dominated New Orleans area.

"We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to know that inequality exists," the former President remarked, adding that the Kings were at one time 'victims of secret government wire tapping' - a blunt reference to President Bush's domestic spying programme that has merited so much criticism in the last several weeks.

Clinton, who stood at the lectern with his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, told the gathering: "This is the first day of the rest of our lives, and we have not finished our long journey home."

"She has passed, but we must take up her burden," Hillary Clinton said, adding, "We will have to split it up because it was a heavy burden to bear, but together we can carry it."

Rev Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr, drew a standing ovation when he said: "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor" - a takeoff on a line from a Stevie Wonder song, with the remark drawing head shakes from the sitting President and his father who were seated behind the pulpit.

What was remembered at this funeral was the sharp contrast between what took place on Tuesday and at the time of the funeral of the Martin Luther King in 1968. The then President Lyndon Johnson did not even attend the services that were held in a much smaller church.

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