Coretta Scott King Funeral
President Bush gave an eloquent tribute to Coretta Scott King at what has to be the longest funeral I have ever seen. He was talking when I was getting read to leave for the airport and the procession of speakers and performers appeared not to be winding down four hours later as I was getting on the plane.
Ten thousand mourners — including four U.S. presidents, numerous members of Congress and many gray-haired veterans of the civil rights movement — said goodbye to Coretta Scott King on Tuesday, with President Bush saluting her as “a woman who worked to make our nation whole.”
The immense crowd filled the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church — a modern, arena-style megachurch in a suburban Atlanta county that was once a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan but today has one of the most affluent black populations in the country.
More than three dozen speakers at the funeral took turns remembering the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who worked to realize her husband’s dream of equality for nearly 40 years after his assassination. She died Jan. 30 at age 78 after battling ovarian cancer and the effects of a stroke.
The president ordered flags flown at half-staff across the country. “Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband’s legacy, she built her own,” Bush told the crowd. “Having loved a leader, she became a leader, and when she spoke, Americans listened closely.”
Former President Clinton urged mourners to follow in her footsteps, honor her husband’s sacrifice and help the couple’s children fulfill their parents’ legacy. Former President Bush said the “world is a kinder and gentler place because of Coretta Scott King.” President Carter praised the Kings for their ability to “wage a fierce struggle for freedom and justice and to do it peacefully.”
The funeral at times turned political, with some speakers decrying the war in Iraq, the Bush administration’s eavesdropping program, and the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in mostly black New Orleans. The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., drew a roaring 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. The comment drew head shakes from Bush and his father as they sat behind the pulpit.
The lavish service stood in sharp contrast to the 1968 funeral for King’s husband. President Lyndon B. Johnson did not attend those services, which were held in the much smaller and older Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, where King had preached.
Like the controversial funeral for Paul Wellstone, much of it struck me as incredibly inappropriate for the occasion. Of course, applause and standing ovations, which were routine in this event even for non-controversial comments, also are something that I am unaccustomed to at funerals. Funerals are places to honor the deceased and for the living gathered there to find unity in their loss.
The appearance of Malcolm X’s daughter and her discussion of the common bonds the Shabazz and King family shared as they took different paths to the same goal, for example, was very moving. Bitterness and political grandstanding, it seems to me, should be reserved for less hallowed occasions.
Update: Perusing Memeorandum, it appears that I was hardly alone in this reaction.
Michelle Malkin says the Democrats were “unhinged” and terms some of the actions “ungodly.” She also provides photos of people having “too much fun” for such a somber occasion and points to videos from Expose the Left to bolster her case.
Some bloggers on the Left are apoplectic about this reaction. Digby writes,
I personally find it absolutely outrageous, OUTRAGEOUS! that Republicans are attacking Coretta Scott King and her family this way. Why, she is an American icon! How dare they! Do they really think that African Americans don’t know how to behave at a funeral for one of their own? How very white of them.
John Arvosis takes a similar tack: “Get ready for the white men of the Republican party to lecture black leaders about not knowing their place.”
I would note that we had the same reaction to the funeral of Wellstone, a white man. This isn’t about race but about cultural norms that are deeply embedded. Arvosis updates his post, though, with a salient point, before continuing on with the racial nonsense:
Kind of something you’d expect at the funeral of a woman who after her husband was assassinated, yet the day before he was buried, led a civil rights march of 50,000 people. A woman who spoke at an anti-war rally in NYC only 3 weeks after her husband was mattered. A woman who devoted her entire life to non-violence.
Certainly, the funeral of a public figure, especially a political leader, is different from the norm. And, while I am sure there were some in attendance that thought the ranting and raving was over the top, the best I could guage from the crowd shots on CSPAN was that it struck a proper chord.
While I am more libertarian than conservative politically, I have conservative sensibilities in the realm of decorum. It still offends when when invited guests at graduation exercises hoot and holler and otherwise act like fools at what is intended as a dignified, solemn ceremony.
No one is arguing that the King family does not have the right to turn their matriarch’s funeral into a pep rally. But this was a public event attended by the sitting president of the United States. Surely, if it is going to be politicized, we have a right to comment on it.