Oprah, Presidents Pay Tribute to Mrs. King

"She was the queen," says Winfrey, "you knew she was a force"

An estimated 10,000 mourners, including four U.S. presidents, showed up to pay tribute to Coretta Scott King at her funeral in Georgia on Tuesday.

“The dream is still alive,” Bishop Eddie Long, leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., told the crowd at the service, which included President and Laura Bush, and former presidents Clinton, Bush and Carter.

“I always really admired her,” former Clinton told the Associated Press as he flew toward Atlanta aboard Air Force One. “I liked her very much. I liked being with her. I liked the way she maintained her dignity in the face of all the difficulties she faced.”

Maya Angelou, a personal friend of Mrs. King’s, spoke at the service, as did President Bush and presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush. Delivering the eulogy will be the Kings’ youngest child, Bernice, who was 5 when her father was assassinated in 1968.

The lines to get into the funeral Tuesday started forming before 3 a.m. outside the church where Bernice is a minister.

“There’s one word to describe going to go see Coretta – historic,” Robert Jackson, a 34-year-old financial consultant from Atlanta, told AP.

King’s body went on public view Monday morning at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta. Oprah Winfrey remembered her friend and inspiration on Monday, telling 1,700 mourners at a facility across the street from the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was Mrs. King’s house of worship: “For me, she embodied royalty. She was the queen. … You knew she was a force.”

Winfrey was part of a three-hour musical celebration for the first lady of civil rights that also featured Gladys Knights (and her rendition of “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,”) and Stephanie Mills. Winfrey laughed as she recounted how she once persuaded Mrs. King to get a new hairdo on her TV show.

She also became emotional when she told how Mrs. King, in the week before her death, sent her a handmade quilt that her husband’s mother had passed down, the Associated Press reports.

“I’m happy to be here to pay tribute to her. But I am happier still to know that I gave her flowers while she yet lived,” said Winfrey. (According to The New York Times, Winfrey also purchased a condo for Mrs. King in 2004, after friends feared for her security.) “She leaves us all a better America than the America of her childhood,” said Winfrey, who, after the tribute, was permitted a private moment alone with Mrs. King.

Mrs. King, who carried on her husband’s dream of equality for nearly 40 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, died Jan. 30 at the age of 78 after battling ovarian cancer and the effects of a stroke.

After her funeral, Mrs. King’s body will be placed in a crypt near her husband’s tomb at the King Center, which she built to promote his memory.

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