More Links in News & Events

Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the Coretta Scott King Funeral

By Jimmy Carter

Lithonia, Georgia
February 7, 2006

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 hunger for democracy and freedom. We'll soon be going back to India again, the largest democracy on earth and 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 and 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 and, in promoting civil rights in our country, they enhanced human rights in all nations. At the same time, they transformed the relationships among us Americans, breaking down the racial barriers that had separated us one from another for almost two centuries.

My life has been closely intertwined with that of the King family.

Our first public ceremony together was in 1974 when, as governor, I dedicated Martin's portrait in the Georgia capitol-Joseph 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 to change America were not appreciated even at the highest level of our government. It was a difficult time for them personally, with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets 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 Nobel 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 the 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 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 our 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 faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi-those who were most devastated by Katrina-to know that there 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 have meant to me and to the world.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top