In this age mega-media, marathon funerals and mega-memorials are very much in order for heroes and heroines. Departing should be a last hurrah commanding the attention and stirring the consciences of the living. Celebrities and political superstars are necessary components.
I attended the services for Coretta Scott King and would praise the proceedings for having struck a reasonable balance. It was a celebration as well as a commemoration. It was also a brief opportunity to inject a spark of revitalization into a movement that is stagnant but is still critically needed.
Despite some forays into the political rally format, a reverent perspective and balance was steadfastly maintained by the magnificent music and several speakers whose orations approached the standards of the ancient Pericles: Atlanta's Mayor Shirley Franklin; the representative of South Africa's Zanele M. Mbeki; Dorothy Heights; John Conyers; Senator Ted Kennedy; all made us understand who our true heroes are and why they must be celebrated. In this same vein one must also congratulate President Bush's speechwriter. Coretta would have greatly appreciated the exultation of the right heroes for the right reasons. Mrs. King would have been even more pleased that some critical issues were highlighted which gave her "homegoing" greater relevance.
In a speech which was forthright, compact and probably with a diversity of purpose best suited for the day, Jimmy Carter reminded all that Katrina was a stark example of the unfinished business of the movement parented by Martin and Coretta King. In an appropriately somber tone Carter abandoned attempts at high-minded orations and poetry and reminded the audience of a few simple but still relevant journalistic facts: The King family members were victims of government sponsored wiretapping and harassment. The FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover personally hated Martin Luther King, Jr.
True to his reputation as an ego-driven self-serving street fighter Dr. Joseph E. Lowry said many of the right things but in a brawling spirit. His demeanor was appropriate for a political rally or debate and he got his expected response from the crowd in the room. But he lost parts of a huge national and worldwide viewing audience. It was a stumble into a "Wellstone moment". Less juvenile glee and more profound reverence in his voice was necessary to hold on to all of those confused undecideds and independents who might be swayed into one or two new progressive thoughts by the aura of pity and fear that funerals convey.
Of course, no one, not even Lowery sought more political benefits than President George W. Bush. It was a stage set for a White House performance. He brought his father and the First Lady to amplify his appearance at one of the nation's largest African-American mega-churches whose pastor, Bishop Eddie L. Long, is a major advocate of Bush's faith-based initiative. Coretta's body placed in front of the pulpit represented a kidnapped consecration of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church as one of the holy citadels of a born again President. There are rumors that the King daughter, Elder Bernice, who delivered the eulogy may soon declare herself a Republican.
In summary, the charge that there was too much politics may have some validity. But it was certainly both parties on parade. While the Democrat Clintons may have captured the loudest and longest applause from the ten thousand mourners, in long-term institutional terms, February 7, 2006 was the day the funeral of Coretta Scott King was used to merge the legacy of Martin Luther King with Bishop Eddie Long's crusade for Bush's faith-based power amidst a lack of health care and overwhelming poverty. Karl Rove is now a few strides closer to his goal of winning another ten percent of Black voters--especially those in swing states. Once more Democrats have produced the best cheerleaders but Republicans may have cleverly won another game.