On this day in 2006, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou delivered the eulogy for her dear friend, Coretta Scott King, who had passed away a week earlier at a rehabilitation center in Mexico.
An audience of 14,000 gathered at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, for the public ceremony.
“She was a quintessential African-American woman,” Angelou told the mourners, “born in the small town repressive South, born of flesh and destined to become iron, born — born a cornflower and destined to become a steel magnolia.”
“She was a quintessential African-American woman, born in the small town repressive South, born of flesh and destined to become iron.”
Angelou spoke of King’s commitment to non-violent protest, which she believed “could heal a nation mired in a history of slavery and all its excesses.”
Coretta Scott met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student of singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. When they married in 1953, she gave up her musical ambitions to become the wife of a Baptist minister.
Together they had four children, and Coretta Scott King became her husband’s partner in the Civil Rights movement.
After his death, she continued the work — using her visibility and voice to continue the struggle for racial equality and civil rights, and in support of the women’s movement.
“She loved and adored her husband and her children. She cherished her race. She cherished women. She cared for the conditions of human beings.”
At her funeral, Angelou spoke about their many years of friendship, their travels, their long evenings together, talking and calling each other “girl.”
“It’s a black woman thing,” Angelou said. “And even as we reached well into our 70th decade, we still said “girl.”
Coretta Scott King died late on the evening of January 30 at a rehabilitation center in Rosarito Beach, in Baja California, where she was receiving holistic therapy for a stroke and ovarian cancer. On February 4, her body was carried by a horse-drawn carriage to Georgia State Capitol, where she was laid out in honor.
“She loved her church fervently,” Angelou told the audience. “She loved and adored her husband and her children. She cherished her race. She cherished women. She cared for the conditions of human beings.”
Coretta Scott King was buried alongside her husband at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.
You can watch a video of Maya Angelou’s eulogy here.
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