On February 7, 2006, two delegations representing both the Government of India and the Atlanta-based Gandhi Foundation USA, consisting of the Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India and former Ambassador of India to Israel, Raminder Singh Jassal, Indian Consul General in Houston and former Ambassador of India to the Maldives, S. M. Gavai, Acting Chair of the Gandhi Foundation and former president of the National Federation of Indian American Associations, as well as Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient Mr. Subash Razdan and Gandhi Foundation Executive Director Giriraj Rao, a retired senior scientist in the Corporate Research and Development department of the Coca-Cola Company (see photo above right of delegation with Assistant Secretary of State Terrell Slayton), were all honored to attend the funeral of Coretta Scott King, which was more a celebration of her life, rather than a funeral. Also in attendance representing the City of Atlanta as the Chief of Staff of the Mayor's Office was Greg Pridgeon, GFUSA Vice Chair of the Board. Among the other 10,000 mourners present were the King family, President George W. Bush, former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Governor of Georgia Sonny Purdue, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, numerous government officials, legislative and community leaders from the African American community and many nationally acclaimed artists, poets and performers. The service was held at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, pastored by long-time King family friend and associate Bishop Eddy L. Long. Coretta's daughter, Elder Bernice King, and sister-in-law Christina Farris spoke at the memorial service. All came to honor the memory and celebrate the legacy of this simple woman from Marion, Alabama, who rose from simple beginnings to such great heights that today she is now referred to as the First Lady of American Civil Rights, a most high honor indeed.
Among the many officials to speak, the most touching and relevant to the Gandhi Foundation and its long association with Coretta was Senator Ted Kennedy, who quoted the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which concludes, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." This quote from the Gospel touched a chord in me because "it makes the connection between the teachings of Christ and the teachings of Gandhi, who was himself deeply influenced by the Gospel message." Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi were the two guiding lights for both Martin and Coretta, making this quote particularly appropriate. Also speaking was Sherry Franks of the Jewish American Committee, Atlanta Chapter and former member of the Board of Directors for Gandhi Foundation USA. She spoke about early associations with Coretta King during the Civil Rights struggle. Complete details of the funeral service are available through the many links provided in the Tribute to Coretta at the Gandhi Foundation USA Web Site
In an article entitled "King's Gandhian Ideas Also Built Ties to India," published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution World and Atlanta section on February 8, 2006, journalist Sheila Poole presented an excellent prelude to these words we are sharing with you today. In that article, Ms. Poole quoted GFUSA Acting Chair Subash Razdan as saying, "Her death means the loss of a good friend to the Indian community," and pointed out that ironically, Coretta died on the 58th anniversary of Gandhi's assassination. GFUSA Executive Director Giriraj Rao told Ms. Poole, "It was Mrs. King, in my opinion, who truly created awareness of Gandhi in the state of Georgia," as he explained that Coretta was instrumental in helping to make possible the placing of the Gandhi Statue at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the first non-American who did not fight in an American war to be so memorialized on federal lands in history. When she interviewed Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University, he said that Coretta Scott King was a pacifist and involved in the peace movement long before she met her husband. He said she brought much of her political commitment into the couple's relationship. And India's Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, told her, "It's not just Indian-Americans mourning but India. The spiritual bond between Gandhi and Martin Luther King --- two of the greatest men in history --- contributed tremendously to the goodwill between the people in India and the United States."
Coretta Scott King kept the spirit of Gandhi alive after her husband's assassination. In 1982, when Columbia Pictures was about to release the film "Gandhi", I met with Coretta, actor and UNESCO representative Danny Kaye and film director Sir Richard Attenborough at my office in the Corporate Research and Development department of the Coca-Cola Company, who owned Columbia Pictures at that time. They were touring the Coca-Cola Company facilities. Coretta had worked to support the donations of proceeds from the Atlanta premier of the film to UNESCO. It was Coretta who continued to spread the message of the Apostle of Peace by creating the Gandhi Room in the Freedom Hall of the King Center in 1983, and she who began the tradition of observing Gandhiji's Birth Anniversary at Freedom Hall. This set the stage for the promotion of Gandhi Awareness in the State of Georgia and throughout the nation. She was often heard to say that as long as she lived, the Gandhi Birth Anniversary would be celebrated at the King Center, which was the chief sponsor of the annual observance and which was co-sponsored by the India American Cultural Association and other community organizations. In 1995 she dedicated the Gandhi Room at the India Cultural and Religious Center, operated by the India American Cultural Association in Smyrna, Georgia. After 1997, when the King Center ceased to sponsor the annual observance, the promise made by Coretta was taken up by the Gandhi Foundation of USA, which has sponsored the event every year since. Over the years, Coretta expressed her gratitude for the Foundation's taking up the mantle of responsibility to honor Gandhi each year through many congratulatory notes sent to the
Through these acts she created a legacy that we must all protect and cherish. Since then, she has remained our greatest inspiration. She is truly the nurturing mother that made possible the birth of the Gandhi Foundation of USA. Through the years, she has been our greatest supporter and dearest friend. Without Coretta, there would be no Gandhi Foundation USA and no recognition of the tremendous impact of Gandhiji on the transformations in American Society brought about through the leadership of her husband, who was so greatly inspired and guided by the life and legacy of Gandhiji that he modeled the development of the American Civil Rights Movement on Gandhiji's struggle to gain independence in India. While Martin Luther King, Jr. brought about the influence of Gandhiji on America, Coretta has brought about an awareness of Gandhiji's influence on her husband. The importance of Gandhi to the King family is exemplified by the place of honor given to Gandhiji in the King family dinning room. A photograph of Gandhiji always hung in a place of honor, high on the wall of the dinning room, over Martin's place at the dinner table (see photo on right)
In 2004, Coretta was presented with the first Gandhi Peace Award offered by the Gandhi Foundation USA, in recognition of her life's work to bringing peace and equality to all people. Her son, Martin Luther King III accepted the award on her behalf (pictured right with Ambassador Ronen Sen, members of the Gandhi Foundation USA Executive Committee and other officials). When her husband was so cruelly taken from us, she did not falter, but bravely took up the cause, keeping the memory and inspiration of both her great husband and Gandhiji alive. We owe her a great debt of gratitude and offer our payment of that debt with our commitment to carry on the work as faithfully as she herself did. Let us, like Coretta, not falter at the shedding of her physical body. Rather, let us work on to keep her memory alive within our hearts, even as she enabled us to keep the memory of her husband and Gandhiji alive.
As we wipe away our heartfelt tears of loss, let us replace those tears with joyful thanks and determined smiles as we continue the work begun so long ago. Let us honor her even as we have honored her husband, and let us never cease to lay the wreath of our love and appreciation at her resting place, beside her husband. Coretta, like her husband and like Gandhiji before him, now belongs to the Ages. She has become immortal, and generations to come will speak her name with reverence and awe in the same breath.
Let this be our epitaph for Coretta: "Here lies a woman who has departed from this world with what most mortals could only hope to achieve." She could very well be the Taciturn Host that Matthew Arnold referred to in his famous poem Rugby Chapel, "The stragglers, refresh the outworn, Praise, re-inspire the brave! Order, courage, return. Eyes rekindling, and prayers, Follow your steps as ye go. Ye fill up the gaps in our files, Strengthen the wavering line, 'stablish, continue our march, On, to the bound of the waste, On, to the City of God." There is a proverb in Tamil, the oldest of India's languages, which says, "What good is it to fret over the dead again and again, for your tears will not bring them back to life. Rather, live by the ideals they kept and the good deeds they performed, and honor them by emulating them in your own life." If immortality comes to those who leave a great legacy in this world, we will certainly put forth Coretta as a shinning example of one who has achieved immortality. May this Great Soul rest in peace, whom we claim as our own Matriarch, strongest supporter and dearest friend, as her soul's arrival in heaven is greeted with the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Come and take your well-earned rest beside the throne of God."
By holding high aloft the torch of hope and compassion,
You made the dream of freedom and equality for all thrive.
By giving of your love, your strength and courage so freely,
You kept the dream of compassion, faith and hope alive.
Now, as the white wings of death enfold you in purest light,
may you find eternal rest and reward in the mighty hand of God.
We let our tears fall upon the seeds of your lifelong labor of love.
May the prayers of those of many lands and many faiths
be heard by the One; the universal, transcendental All,
That the blessed memory of your life and labor shall
be held dear in the hearts of all forever.
-H. V. Shivadas