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.

Lorie Byrd and The Anchoress had similar reactions.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Derrick says:

    A very well measure post. My problem isn’t you or anyone commenting on the funeral or even people’s personal preference. My problem is this false outrage. As you stated, Coretta Scott King took every opportunity to speak about the issues that mattered to her. Her history shows that she wouldn’t have had a problem with political rhetoric at her own funeral. Republicans need to quit with the condescening rhetoric. African-American funerals have never been like an Irish wake. For the few members of that party who have been to one, you’ll find loud singing, impassioned speeches about the person’s life, even humor. I’m sorry that offends so many, but that is part of our culture and heritage. There is no reason that the King family should have to apologize for the way they wanted to celebrate THEIR mother’s life. Hey, they even threw you a bone, by putting Sonny Perdue, the up for re-election Republican Governor who campaigned on the confederate flag center stage through the whole ceremony. Republicans need to get over it.

  2. 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.

    Perhaps the institutional remnents of the civil rights movement is still smarting from George W. Bush’s refusal to show up at NAACP shindigs; so this is just payback. Face it, they just looooove to take cheap shots at him; and with George a sitting duck at some quasi-state function, it must have been too tasty a target for Lowery to pass up. But whole great chunks of the left is in self-marginalizing mode these days, so this doesn’t come as a surprise that he would do something like this.

  3. Jo says:

    Well said. I’m still angry. Like you, funerals have a special decorum and what happened yesterday was outside that; as was what they did with Wellstone’s funearl. It’s not a black thing like your first commenter said, it’s a manners thing. And lately, a lot of people on the left have run out of manners, good commen sense, and dignity.

  4. LJD says:


    Jimmy Carter is black?

  5. I just watched the entire CSK funeral on C-Span and realized that you can’t get a sense of it from a few isolated quotes or sound bites.

    It was a marvelous tapestry of art, full of nuance and richness. More important it was evocative of a time when we actually had decent people in the White House and Congress. In the succession of speeches there was poetry, there was soul-stirring song, there was historical context. There was spirituality, and humaneness, and love and hope.

    Contrast all that with what these pathetic Republicans did immediately afterward. They seized upon tiny fractions of the event, the ones where allusions were made to Republican failures and criminal acts and lies. It shocked them. But what was more shocking was that these Republicans came away thinking the whole thing was about them.

    It wasn’t.

    But the Republicans were not content to just leave those few TRUTHFUL fractions stand. No, fascist Karl Rove was compelled to immediately send his whores and pimps and slime merchants to try to tear it all down.

    That’s all they know how to do, they know nothing else. They got into power in Washington on slime and lies and misrepresentations and smear tactics, and they used their illegitimate power to sully everything good about America, most especially by lying us into an unnecessary war. And looked the other way when all those Black folks huddled in New Orleans and begged for help.

    And like a poisonous leitmotiv or a lingering putrid smell, there was George Bush, sitting behind the speakers. As usual he was ill at ease and totally out of touch. He actually brought himself to believe he belonged there, sitting among honorable people.

    He was so miscast. So out of place.

  6. DC Loser says:

    I wonder what you think of New Orleans’ funerals? Or even Irish funerals for that matter?

  7. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘totally out of touch.’

    Let’s see, Bush goes and praises the deceased. Halfwit ex-president and ‘community’ activist and professional hangerer oner make axe grinding political speeches.

    Obviously I lack the progressive sensibility to determine which is more appropriate so I say ‘Let the good times roll’. Please take any further occassions such as this and call out the moonbat armies and internet trolls from their parents basements to celebrate. It’s a sure winner!

  8. LJD says:

    It was a marvelous tapestry of art, full of nuance and richness

    LOL You gotta be a liberal to talk like that about… a funeral! NEXT!

  9. m says:

    The Democrats better find a new playbook soon. The CSK funeral was the standard “we’s all on the plantation together” pitch, straight out of the 60’s. It may help solidify the base, but it certainly doesn’t swing the swing voters.

  10. Tim says:

    The most significant thing about the whole event is that it might be the first public forum where Der Fuhrer has heard criticism personally, since all the audiences he performs in front of are handpicked and pre-screened.

    And since this is a “president” who’s consistently refused to speak to the NAACP convention, it’s quite possibly the first time he’s been exposed to black people who weren’t handpicked, prescreened and scripted.

  11. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘itÂ’s quite possibly the first time heÂ’s been exposed to black people who werenÂ’t handpicked, prescreened and scripted. ‘

    No doubt he has the current and former Secretary of State, the HUD Secretary and the former Education Secretary scripted by their white masters for all their meetings. The extent of liberal racism is mind boggling.

  12. Herb says:

    John Palcewski:

    It is sad indeed that you think that political rethoric and Democrat hate is the proper forum for a funeral. It makes one wonder if either have a sense of morals or values. Your comments , although, are typical of the hate within you that you want to spread throughout our nation. Your kind of hate is like the hate we see from the radical part of the Muslim world. Your hate is typical of those who “just can’t get over the fact that George Bush won the 2000 and 2004 election”. Your kind of hate is the foundation that keeps America devided creating an atnosphere for terrorists to thrive in. It is sad indeed that all of you do not have the morals and mental capacity to know one simple thing, that is, “Right from Wrong” You see everything in America as “Right from Left” and you do not know the difference. Sad, Sad, indeed.

  13. Anderson says:

    Hm. Betty Friedan did more for human freedom than Coretta Scott King ever did, but I doubt Friedan will be lying in state.

  14. the Pirate says:

    Yes Bush doesn’t speak to the NAACP of course the NAACP had nothing to do with that decision. (See James Byrd Ad for 2000 election)

  15. Lucky says:

    I’m disgusted with this funeral being turned into a political game.

    The King family chose the speakers to speak at the funeral and obviously they represent her views and feelings.

    People ought to be ashamed of themselves for turning this into politics as usual.

  16. G A PHILLIPS says:

    black, white, purple, it don’t matter, like bush says, every one in this country has the God givin right to be a dumdass,(I do) and some chose to be one every God blessed day. My problem is with the so called Rev. Sony, or any one else who supports democrats as a party, point; you can not support the democrats, who have in their party platform, support for the murder of the unborn, you can not do this and call your self a christian. I am so sorry, read your bible (if you got one) this is not my jugement, but God’s.Oh and Jimmy Carter should be tested for madcow, dang’ I mean madjackass disease.Oh, and it don’t have one thing in the great blue hell to do with what type of funeral your at. Show some respect or expect none!

  17. G A PHILLIPS says:

    oh, and Tim, Hitler was evolutionist like I am shure are. So read some books before you try to type with the big boys and girls, ok , now run along and go play.

  18. bryan says:

    It was a marvelous tapestry of art, full of nuance and richness. More important it was evocative of a time when we actually had decent people in the White House and Congress.

    Oh, yeah. Like JFK and his brother Teddy? Or LBJ, who signed the civil rights act and promptly sent a lot of youths off to Vietnam. Or Richard Nixon, who … well, you know, or was it Ford? Carter? Reagan.

    Just who are you talking about “decent” people in the White House. Every administration has its warts. Inferring that the people who work in the white house are not “decent” as past administrations is assinine and shows how little you know about the topic you’re addressing. Grow up.

  19. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps decorum did go by the wayside, I don’t know, I did not watch. In any event it is the King’s business, not mine.

    It is no suprise that the GOP is desperatly seeking non-issues like this to divert attention from the war in Iraq, budget disaster, corruption scandal & so on & so on.

  20. bryan says:

    It is no suprise that the GOP is desperatly seeking non-issues like this to divert attention from the war in Iraq, budget disaster, corruption scandal & so on & so on.

    Funny, I was thinking it’s hardly a blip on the radar compared to the fact that the president – last I checked – just finished successfully nominating TWO supreme court justices! Boo-yah!

    Funny, too, that the Dems are going to make such a big issue out of the wiretap nonsense that the budget will not make big news – and the budget is probably more important in the long run.

  21. Jim says:

    Funny, I don’t remember speakers during President Reagan’s funeral bashing former President Clinton.

  22. LCaution says:

    Hmmmmm, the cartoons are OK, but the behavior at the funeral was “out of place”.

    Funny, isn’t it, how one’s principles change with the situation: “respect for another’s faith” isn’t grounds for not publishing an offensive cartoon but “respect for a funeral” is grounds for restricting the content of the eulogies.

    Would I have published the cartoon in Denmark if it had been my call? I don’t know. Did I like the speeches at King’s funeral? Yes – but then my feelings about Bush are definitely not printable.

    Still, I must point out that double and triple standards are common in the political and blogosphere these days. I suppose this is psychologically normal, but it is also incredibly depressing.

  23. James Joyner says:


    I’m afraid I don’t understand the comparison. Newspaper editorial pages are, by design, places to express political views. Funerals are not.

    Had the Reagan funeral been turned into a vehicle to bash Democrats, I would have objected, too.

  24. keep drinking the kool-aid says:

    I would like to thank all the ‘nice white republicans’ for telling us ‘black folk’ how to hold a “proper funeral full of decorum.” When you die, have your funeral like YOU want it. And how dare President Carter (“who needs to be tested for mad-cow disease”) mention the fact that you so-called Republican Christians supposedly worship “The King of Peace.” (Some were ACTUALLY offended.) “Pre-emptive war” is what Jesus was all about. “If your enemy slaps your face, don’t turn the other cheek… falsify evidence, hide any evidence that might be unflattering, give no-bid contracts to your friends, cut taxes on the top 1% (screw the poor!), kill 50,000 (post-born) innocent civilians (and counting…) and lie, lie, lie until you get your way.” Just like Jesus would have wanted. Christians…? Way to pick and choose what from the Bible you CHOOSE to believe… Like the bible actually says “It’s easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle , than for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. Keep chasing that dollar you self-righteous hate-mongering corporation-loving hypocites…

  25. Blessed Man says:

    Feelings are hurt? Aww get over it.. we cant do nothing about the lame duck President. He lies due to his weak advisers/staff.

    At the beginning of the service Bishop Long said it was a celebration of the life of Mrs. King. A celebration is a range of various emotions.

    Now regardless of some of yall color, dont jump on the bandwagon and said it all the democrats’ faults and we don’t know how to act at a funeral?
    That is a pretty petty attack on those who chose to laugh and clap and smile or weep…

    Please there is a time to laugh and there is a time to cry and there is a time to think and there is a time to rememberance..

    That funeral have all the emotions involved..

    Sure some of the remarks were out of order but hey the 1st Amendement gives us the right to speak. Folks gonna be upset but it was done because they were facting the majority of American’s feeling.

    I sure hope that folks understand why it so we need to vote.. because Mr. King and Mrs. King marched so we could have that opportunity to vote without harassment. And keep in mind that Voter Act is up for renewal in 2007. Bush could have hint he was gonna sign it without a problem.

    Also some of the folks’ were pretty aggravated by the Sercet Service’s overaggressiveness and lack of cooridination with the Dekalb’s Police Forces and New Birth Security force. It one thing to said the church holds 10,000 but it is wrong to lie to say the church was full to max and that wasnt the case at all. Yall act like we dont know how to act at a church!

    Yes President Bush is human too but he causes the division between the parties by not going to the NAACAP group. He choose to listen to his so call boys. Hmm where DeLay and that other cat now? J A I L? I dont see the REPUBLICAN PARTY holding a freedom march to get them out of jail. YA REAP WHAT YA SOW!!!

    The reason Clinton got the loudest ovation because the man came clean after the fact he lie while he was in office. Shoot if it wasnt for the FDR rule Clinton would still be in the White house and we wouldnt have to go through 9/11. His wife doesnt seem to want to run.. but if she does she better pick a good VP…

    Mrs. King have a legacy that need to be continue not only by her kids but by us regardless of our color.

    Yall focus too much time on the small stuff..Bush did give a very nice speech about Mrs. King but he could have taken the initiative to save his butt…he could have said i am going to ask Congress to print a coin with the likeness of Mrs. King’s face…i am going to authorized the US POST OFFICE to print stamps with the likeness of Mrs. King.. I am going to ask Congress to create a federal holiday for Mrs. King…He have the opportunity to save face……. but nooooo he gave his speech and it was nice but I was thinking come on Mr. President are you going to just a tribute??? why not say a plan of action to help continue Mrs. King’s legacy…shoot he could have include $12 million dollars in the budget to go toward the King Center with some stipulations attach to it…


    I am not going to judge base on what he said or she said.. but I am going to keep the dream alive.

    As for Malcolm X’s daugther.. wow her testimony brought the attention back to Mrs. King’s passing.. I was really touch because I didnt know that the two men’s family were close like that…


    “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!”

    Honestly I think Mr. president Bush is a good guy but unfortunately he is surround with people with their own hidden agenda and self-serving motives… If he didnt come to the funeral the Republican would blame him for 2008…but his attendance was sincere.. but hopefully he will save face and grace with a turnaround for the next 2 years…

    We need to start changing TODAY…









  26. Jon says:


    There are so many people in this country who even after the no weapons of mass destruction, even after the fiasco of Hurrican Katrina, illegal wiretapping that directly violates the Constitution, soooo many people still buy into George Bush’s BS. I applaud the Democrats for finally taking some initiative and pointing out his mistakes, and the parallels to Coretta King, RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS ARROGANT SMIRKING FACE.

    Oh and FYI whoever said “they murder the unborn” I hate to mention it but even if abortions were “illegal” rich women would still be able to afford the procedure from their doctor. Banning abortion only takes away the clinics, which mean people will go back to alleys and coat hangers. Yes, in a perfect world it would be nice if everyone only had sex when they wanted to make a baby, but surprise, doesn’t work that way.

    Now you Republicans quit your little whining about Correta’s funeral and do what you elected Bush to do in the first place, BRING THIS NEW YORKER BIN LADIN’S HEAD ON A PLATE

  27. i like this info on this funeral