- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) — Thousands of mourners filed past the casket of Coretta Scott King yesterday, paying their respects to the “first lady of the civil rights movement” at the 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 chilly rain for a moment to bid farewell to the widow of Martin Luther King.

Across the street, at least 1,000 people filled the church’s newer facility for a musical tribute that included Gladys Knight and Oprah Winfrey.

In a proclamation issued yesterday, President Bush ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset today at the White House and on all public buildings, U.S. naval vessels, military posts and embassies across the nation and abroad.

Mr. Bush and former President Bill Clinton lead the list of dignitaries expected to attend Mrs. King’s funeral today at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a 10,000-seat church in Lithonia where the Kings’ youngest child, Bernice, is a minister.

Mrs. 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 Ebenezer Baptist service concluded, Mrs. King’s eldest daughter, Yolanda, 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. Flowers shrouded the lower half of the casket, and wreaths decorated with roses, Mrs. King’s favorite flower, stood on either side.

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 Mrs. King’s body at the church.

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

At least 6,000 adults and children passed through the sanctuary in the first three hours, officials said.

During the weekend, about 42,000 mourners walked past Mrs. King’s open casket at the state Capitol, where she became the first woman and the first black person to lie in honor there. It was a striking contrast to the official snub her slain husband had been given by Gov. Lester Maddox, an outspoken segregationist.

Workers were expected to erect a temporary marble mausoleum for Mrs. King near that of her late husband at the King Center, which she founded in his name, said Brandon Shields, president and owner of Marietta-based Roberts-Shields Memorial Co. It will be used until a structure identical to the slain civil rights leader’s can be built.

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