Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Reactions to Memorial Service for Coretta Scott King

I spent a good part of the day watching the televised memorial service for Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King. I guess I could say I was a King groupie of sorts in the sixties as I went to hear him speak whenever he came to Cleveland, Ohio where I lived. I also attended the 1963 March on Washington. It was a marvelous time to be alive. I also have visited the Center for Social Change in Atlanta where Martin Luther King lies in repose on a small raised platform surrounded by water. Coretta's life has been dedicated to keeping King's spirit and legacy alive all these years. Mrs. King it appears was also responsible in so many ways for her husband's great success. I understand she was his mentor in many respects.

The service for King was quite remarkable. Held in a tremendous church auditorium that seated 10,000 people. Among the guests were the entire U.S. Congress, four Presidents, two of whom, Carter and Clinton, owe their election in part to Coretta Scott King and Martin. The strange part of the service was the fact that George Bush and Laura Bush were there along with the Senior Bush not Barbara. After her inappropriate remarks about how uprooted people from New Orleans as a result of Katrina were improving their lives because of the charity of others or some such nonsense, I am glad she wasn't there. A number of the speeches honoring Coretta Scott King also took karem shots at Bush policies both domestic and foreign. Ted Kennedy received a very positive reception and zinged Bush several times, Rev. Lowery, Founder of Southern Christian Leadership Council, criticized Bush for spending money on war and not at home, and Bernice King also got some shots in of her own that seemed anti-Bush but also anti anyone who appeared to wander from her version of what she would call Christian or born again Christian values or so it seemed.

Maya Angelou both sang and sermonized poetically from the podium. She also criticized the terrible times we are in and called us all to action against the violence in the world we experience and that Mrs. King and her husband so reviled. Malcom X's daughter, Ms. Attallah Shabazz, stood out as an adept and thoughtful speaker who shared great emotions with us about her experiences with the King family and Coretta who seemed to be almost a mother figure in her life.

The two Clintons, Bill and Hillary, were a highlight of the event. Bill received wild applause from the audience everytime he said almost anything at first. It was hard for him to begin. He looked at Coretta's casket and said we must remember "There is a woman in there". He brought us back to reality after so many words spoken by others that made her seem so Godlike and back to the human experience which Bill is so good at revealing. It seemed as though Bill was launching Hillary's pollitical march toward the White House. I must say they were both eloquent and Hillary's speech seemed heartfelt. She seemed to identify with Coretta's devotion even sacrifice in helping someone to great heights not unlike herself in relation to Bill. But she went on to pay the highest respects to Coretta's courage against such great odds.

It was Bernice King's eulogy at the end that got me very confused and upset. I felt her sermonesque soliloquy was too personal, defensive, and cloaked in religious nonsense. I supposed it is sacrosanct to criticize her given her great grief and overwhelming loss which I am sure was real and heartfelt. It was Bernice's message though that concerned me. What was it we were to think. Bernice left me feeling sad rather than uplifted as she tried to symbolically explain why her Mother's last few days on earth, her moaning for three straight hours, the ovarian cancer, meant something about a struggle of good over evil or was it the other way around? For goodness sake, Coretta did not give up on life because she saw too much evil on earth. She was hardly one to give up on anything. Bernice just seems like a lost soul to me yet it is she is who in charge of a congregation and holder of the legacy. She did say a few things that made me think for a moment she was politically aware and then she just as quickly lost me as she would veer back to some kind of religious fantasy about the death of her Mother.

I was also touched by the eulogy by the woman who represented the American Jewish Committee and who so fondly remembered Coretta Scott King. The Jewish woman mentioned how faithfully Coretta kept in touoch with her and how she in effect remembered the Jewish people in her life which showed once again Mrs. King's great humanity. Today it is not always so popular for African Americans to support Jews even loyal civil rights supporter type Jewish people. Coretta Scott King spoke up for Gay rights and Marriage Equality. Her voice will be missed as we struggle for marriage equality. Several of the speakers brought up her support for Gay Rights in their speeches.

Sharon Raphael

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