Coretta Scott King Leaves Own Legacy

By Hamil R. Harris and Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

ATLANTA, Jan. 31 -- Hundreds of people -- from powerful politicians to ordinary schoolchildren -- gathered here at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s mausoleum to mourn Coretta Scott King, who died early Tuesday in a small alternative medical facility in Mexico.

A family spokeswoman said the cause of death was ovarian cancer and heart failure.

A statement released by the family late Tuesday said that King, 78, the wife of the slain civil rights leader, went to the Hospital Santa Monica in Playa de Rosarito, a few miles south of San Diego in Baja California, within the past two weeks to seek treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. U.S. doctors had diagnosed the condition as terminal.

King had a stroke in August that left her partly paralyzed, and she had not fully recovered when she learned of the cancer diagnosis. She died about 1 a.m. Pacific time (4 a.m. Eastern), said Lorena Blanco, a spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate in Tijuana. Judy Smith, the family's spokeswoman, said King's daughter Bernice was with her when she died.

President Bush sent his condolences from the White House and Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) offered to let King's body lie in state at the Georgia Capitol. Activists far and wide hailed her as a leader whose legacy rivals that of her famous husband.

King led the fight to make her husband's January birthday a national holiday and established the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, among other accomplishments.

"She was the glue that held the movement together," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights veteran who marched with the Kings numerous times.

It was unclear Tuesday why King selected the facility in Mexico. Its founder is a chiropractor with no medical degree who has been sanctioned numerous times by regulators and legal authorities in the United States. A statement from the family said that "Mrs. King and her family wanted to explore other options."

King had traveled to Mexico on a private jet supplied by Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder of Potter's House, a Dallas megachurch.

"We just arranged transportation," Jakes said. "Mrs. King and my mother were schoolmates in Marion, Alabama. Mrs. King was truly the first lady of the civil rights movement. She stood with dignity and poise, and it deeply saddens me that I've lost such a close friend. This is very personal to me."

With King's death, the future of the center she established in her husband's name is thrown into further uncertainty as the couple's four children argue over whether to keep the deteriorating facility in the family or sell it to the federal government for millions of dollars. King's death prompted a former ally in the civil rights struggle to implore her children to settle their differences to save the center.

For now, her children -- Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter and Bernice -- made arrangements to bring her remains to the United States, Blanco said. By law, the body must be embalmed beforehand. It is scheduled to be flown to Atlanta early Wednesday.

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