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Widow of US Civil Rights Icon King Dies

Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., has died. She had been in poor health since suffering a stroke last summer.

Flags were lowered to half-staff at the King Center in Atlanta as the news emerged that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., had died. The center issued a brief statement that said Mrs. King died late Monday at age 78.

Coretta Scott King was hospitalized for several weeks in August after she suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack that left her unable to speak. Her health prevented her from participating in events in Atlanta on the January federal holiday marking the birthday of her late husband, though she made a brief appearance at an awards dinner.

Reverend Joseph Lowery, who took over as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after King was assassinated in 1968, said Mrs. King did not try to take her husband's place as a leader of the civil rights organization, but was always supportive of the civil rights movement.

"She supported the movement everyhere," Mr. Lowery said. "She participated in marches. She saw herself as duty-bound, as a mother, as a citizen, as a figure in her own right and particularly as Martin's widow, that she had an obligation to hold up the banner."

Mrs. King formed the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta after her husband's death. She campaigned for the national King holiday, now in its 20th year. Mrs. King chaired the board of the King Center until 1994, when she turned the position over to one of her four children.

The president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, Tyrone Brooks, a longtime civil rights activist, praised Mrs. King as a tireless champion for the cause of human rights around the world.

"I am happy that Mrs. King lived to be almost 80 years old," Mr. Brooks said. "She lost her husband when he was was only 39 years old. She raised her children. She constructed the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. She became an international ambassador promoting the legacy of her husband. Mrs. King will go down in history in her own right as a great leader."

Mrs. King was born in 1927 in Alabama, where her father ran a country store.

She met Martin Luther King Jr. while he was studying at Boston University and she was attending a music school with plans to become a singer. The couple married in Alabama in 1953, just before Reverend King came to prominence as a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, where he led a bus boycott that became a turning point in the American civil rights movement.