Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton Speak at Coretta Scott King's Funeral

CQ Transcripts Wire
Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 5:06 PM


CARTER: Since we left the White House, my wife and I have visited more than 125 nations in the world.


They've been mostly nations where people are suffering; almost 45 of them are in Africa. And we have found in those countries a remarkable gratitude for what Martin and Coretta have meant to them no matter where they live.

It's interesting for us Americans to realize that we do not have a monopoly on a hunger for democracy and freedom.


We'll soon be going back to India again, the largest democracy on earth, which is a Hindu nation. My wife and I have helped to have democratic elections in Indonesia, the fourth largest nation on earth, the largest Muslim country in the world committed now to democracy.

And, of course, we have a country here...


... with a diversity of religions, but predominantly Christian, which is also a democracy.

So we don't have a monopoly on achieving the greatest aspects of human nature.

It's not easy for us to realize what is the essence of human ambitions that bind us all together in all those countries in the world that admired the King family and what they meant.

Coretta and Martin and their family have been able to climb the highest mountain and to realize the essence of theology and political science and philosophy. They overcame one of the greatest challenges of life, which is to be able to wage a fierce struggle for freedom and justice and to do it peacefully.


It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the prince of peace.


Martin and Coretta were able to demonstrate to the world that this correlation was possible. They exemplified the finest aspects of American values and brought upon our nation the admiration of the entire world.

This beautiful and brave woman helped to inspire her husband, has been a worthy successor in carrying forward his great legacy.

They led a successful battle to alleviate the suffering of blacks and other minorities in promoting human rights. In promoting civil rights in our own country, they enhanced human rights in all nations.

And at the same time, they transformed the relationships among us Americans, breaking down the racial barriers that have separated us one from another for almost two centuries.

My life has been closely intertwined with that of the King family. Our first ceremony together was in 1974, when as governor I dedicated Martin's portrait in the Georgia Capitol -- Joe Lowery and others were there...


... which was surrounded outside with chanting members of the Ku Klux Klan, who had too much support from other Americans.

The efforts of Martin and Coretta have changed America, they were not appreciated even at the highest level of government. It was difficult for them personally -- with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance...


... and as you know, harassment from the FBI.

When Coretta and Daddy King adopted me in 1976, it legitimized a southern governor as an acceptable candidate for president.


Each of their public handshakes to me was worth a million Yankee votes.


In return, they had a key to the White House while I was there, and they never let me forget that I was in their political debt. They were not timid in demanding payment -- but always for others who were in trouble, never for themselves.


In 1979, when I was president, I called for making January 15 a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta was by my side.


And the following year, we established the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

When I awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, Coretta responded to this honor for her husband, and I quote, "This medal will be displayed with Martin's Noble Peace Prize in the completed Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change, his official memorial in Atlanta. It will serve as a continuous reminder and inspiration to young people and unborn generations that his dream of freedom, justice and equality must be nurtured, protected and fully realized, that they must be keepers of the dream."

Years later in Oslo I said, "The Nobel Prize profoundly magnified the inspiring global influence of Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest leader that my native state, and perhaps my native country. has ever produced.


And I was including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and the others.


On a personal note, I added in my talk, "It is unlikely that my political career beyond Georgia would have been possible without the changes brought about by the civil rights movement in the American South and throughout the nation."

This commemorative ceremony this morning and this afternoon is not only to acknowledge the great contributions of Coretta and Martin, but to remind us that the struggle for equal rights is not over. We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi...


... those who were most devastated by Katrina to know that they are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.


It is our responsibility to continue their crusade.

I would like to say to my sister, Coretta, that we will miss you, but our sorrow is alleviated by the knowledge that you and your husband are united in glory.

Thank you for what you've meant to me and to the world.




BUSH: I respected Coretta, like her husband, because they rejected race-baiting by those who opposed as well as those who supported the civil rights movement.

And there was always a dignity, a wonderful grace, about Coretta, the way she carried herself. And for this she is mourned and eternally respected by millions, not only across America, but as we heard today from South Africa and elsewhere, across the entire world.

A few weeks ago, I had an uplifting experience, that I hope some of the young people here have shared. I saw a special screening of "Glory Road," together with members of the Houston Rockets and all the basketball teams around Houston -- high school kids, college kids.

And the film and its powerful message made a profound impact on this young group, particularly on the young players, but also on all the young kids who were there.

It only reminded us how far our society has come. And these kids didn't understand it. They didn't know what discrimination was until some of them seen this movie, "Glory Road."

It's also to remind us how in countless ways, large and small, we see the fruits of labors leaders like Martin and Coretta King, all round us.

Lord knows, Coretta led the way, stared down the hate-mongers, showed us how to reach the day, to use his expression, "man as man."

And that burden is now lifted. And Coretta has been called home to the Father.

We give thanks for her good life, a life that mattered, a life well-lived.

Thank you very much.



B. CLINTON: I thank you for that wonderful reception. You might not feel like repeating it after you hear what I've got to say.


Bishop, President and Mrs. Bush, Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, Rev...


... we are honored to be here.

I'm honored to be here with my president and my former presidents.


When President Bush 41 complained that he was at a disadvantage because he was an Episcopalian...


... then he came up here and zinged Joe Lowery, like he did...


... I thought that ain't bad for one of the frozen chosen. He's done a pretty good job.



We've had a wonderful time running around the world doing good together. And I thank the president for giving us a chance to do it.

Let me say a couple things briefly and then ask Hillary to join in these remarks.

I don't want us to forget that there's a woman in there...


... not a symbol -- not a symbol -- a real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments. And I don't want us to forget that.

You know, I'm sitting here thinking, I wish I knew what her kids were thinking about now. I wonder if they were thinking about what I was thinking about at my mother's funeral. Said all this grand stuff.

I wonder if they're thinking about when she used to read books to them, or when she told them Bible stories, or what she said to them when their daddy got killed.

We're here to honor a person.

Fifty-four years ago, her about-to-be husband said that he was looking for a woman with character, intelligence, personality and beauty, and she sure fit the bill.


And I have to say, when she was over 75, I thought she still fit the bill pretty good with all those categories.


But I think that's important.

This is a woman, as well as a symbol, as well as the embodiment of her husband's legacy and the developer of her own.

The second point I want to make is the most important day in her life for everyone of us here at this moment in this church except when she embraced her faith, the next most important day was April 5, 1968, the day after her husband was killed. She had to decide, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?"

We would have all forgiven her, even honored her if she said, "I have stumbled on enough stony roads. I have been beaten by enough bitter rods. I have endured enough dangers, toils and snares. I'm going home and raising my kids. I wish you all well."


None of us, nobody could have condemned that decision. But instead, she went to Memphis -- the scene of the worst nightmare of her life -- and led that march for those poor hard-working garbage workers that her husband...


Now, that's the most important thing for us.

Because what really matters if you believe all this stuff we've been saying is what are we going to do with the rest of our lives?


So her children, they know they've got to carry the legacy of their father and their mother now. We all clap for that; they've got to go home and live with it. That's a terrible burden.


That is a terrible burden. You should pray for them and support them and help them. That is a burden to bear. It's a lot harder to be them than it was for us to be us growing up. Don't you think it wasn't. It may have been a glory, it may have been wonderful, but it's not easy.

So what will happen to the legacy of Martin Luther King and Coretta King? Will it continue to stand for peace and nonviolence and anti-poverty and civil rights and human rights?

What will be the meaning of the King holiday every year?

And even more important, Atlanta, what's your responsibility for the future of the King Center?


What are you going to do to make sure that this thing goes on?


I read in the newspaper today, I read in the newspaper coming down here that there's more rich black folks in this county than anyone in America except Montgomery County, Maryland.


What are we going to do?

This is the first day of the rest of our lives. And we haven't finished our long journey home.

The one thing I always admired about Dr. King and about Coretta when I got to know her, especially, is how they embraced causes that were almost surely lost right alongside causes that they knew if they worked at hard enough, they could actually win.

They understood that the difficulty of success does not relieve one of the obligation to try. So all of us have to remember that.

What are we going to do with the rest of our lives? You want to treat our friend Coretta like a role model? Then model her behavior.


And you know we're always going to have our political differences. We're always going to have things we can do.

And this has been, I must say, a brilliantly executed and enormously both moving and entertaining moment.

But we're in the house of the Lord.


And most of us are too afraid to live the lives we ought to live because we have forgotten the promise that was made to Martin Luther King, to Coretta Scott King and to all of us, most beautifully for me stated in Isaiah.

"Fear not, I have redeemed thee."


"I have called thee by thy name. Thou art mine."

We don't have to be afraid. We can follow in her steps. We can honor Dr. King's sacrifice. We can help his children fulfill their legacy.

Everybody who believes that the promise of America is for every American, everybody who believes that all people in the world are caught up in what he so eloquently called the inescapable web of mutuality, everyone of us in a way are all the children of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. And I for one am grateful for her life and her friendship.

Thank you.


H. CLINTON: As we are called, each of us must decide whether to answer that call by saying send me.

And when I think of Coretta Scott King, I think of a woman who lived out her calling. She lived her life as an extension of her faith and conviction.

Now, when she met this young divinity student, and he told her what Bill has just reminded us, and proclaimed that he was looking for a woman like her to be his wife, I can imagine that she thought for a minute, "What am I getting myself into?"


And, in fact, she waited six months to give him an answer because she had to have known in her heart that she wasn't just marrying a young man, but she was bringing her calling to be joined with his.

As they began their marriage and their partnership, it could not have been easy. Because there they were, young, becoming parents, starting their ministry at a moment in history that they were called to lead.

Leadership is something that many who are called refuse to accept. But Martin and Coretta knew they had no choice, and they lived their faith and their conviction.

H. CLINTON: I think of those nights when she was putting the children to bed and worrying about the violence, worrying about the threats, worrying even about the bombs -- and knowing that she couldn't show any of the natural fear that any of us would feel.

The pressure that must have been for her -- and she would turn to the Lord, who would answer her call for support by reminding her of her redemption.

When she went to Memphis, after her husband was killed, I remember as a college student listening in amazement to the news reports of this woman taking up her husband's struggle on behalf of the dispossessed.

She said then -- and she lived for the rest of her life in fulfillment -- that she was there to continue his work to make all people truly free -- not just free from the obvious shackles, not just free from the legal segregation, not just free from the oppression that one can see, but truly free inside, knowing that each of us has a personal relationship with God that can take us through any darkness.


As we gather here to celebrate her life and mourn her passing, we do have to answer the question as to whether we would say, "Send me."

She has passed, but we must take up her burden.

We'll have to split it up, because it was a heavy burden to bear.

But together, we can carry it. We can carry on the struggle against racism and discrimination. We can carry on the fight to make sure all children know they are created equal in the sight of God.

We know...


... that the work of peace never ends.

So we bid her earthly presence farewell. We wish her godspeed on her homecoming. And we ask ourselves: Will we say, when the call comes, "Send me"?

I know what she would want our answer to be today.

God bless you, Coretta Scott King.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company