Thousands of mourners filed past the casket containing the body of Coretta Scott King today in Atlanta.
The bronze casket carrying the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was carried through the streets of Atlanta on a horse-drawn carriage before being ushered into the Capitol by an honor guard of the Georgia State Patrol. The crowd outside cheered and threw roses as the casket went by.
A lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as Gov. Sonny Perdue and his wife, Mary, escorted the casket into the statehouse, a sharp contrast to the official snub afforded Martin Luther King Jr. nearly four decades ago by segregationist Gov. Lester Maddox.
The wounds of 1968 may be a long time healing, but this scene shows how far we have come (although it is an irony that Republican Perdue won the Georgia governorship by campaigning to restore the old state flag which incorporated the Confederate battle flag, so in some ways we haven't come as far as we should have.)
It is true that lacking a firm knowledge of when Dr. King would have died of natural causes had not an assassin cut his life short at the age of 39, the death of his widow is the closest we can come to the kind of closure that we will never completely get. And it is certainly true that her casket lying in state in the Georgia statehouse is an honor that he deserved but never received.
It would be a mistake though to suggest that she is simply a 'fill in' for her husband. That would be false, in fact. After her husband's death, Coretta Scott King spoke out often and eloquently about what he had fought for. She spoke both about those things which have been accomplished and those things which remain to be accomplished. She fought to get him recognized as a leader, recognition which finally came when his birthday was declared a national holiday. Mrs. King delivered the 'State of the Dream' speech every year, both summarizing the successes that had been made in that year and detailing the challenges that lay ahead. And all of this she did while also raising children who were 12, 10, 7 and 5 when their father was murdered.
It may be true that had she not married Dr. King, the world might not know who Coretta Scott King was. But it may still have known, for she possessed a strength of character which would likely have been recognized anywhere. And the accolades that she is receiving this week are hers, not Martin's. She has earned them for a lifetime of standing up for what is right. With the benefit of the past 38 years to look over, it is clear that Martin Luther King believed in attaining the highest standards of character. Just look at who he married.