KING
W.a. Harewood  /  AP file
Coretta Scott King attends a ceremony in Atlanta marking the 37th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in this April 4 file photo.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/21/2005 11:17:18 PM ET 2005-08-22T03:17:18

Coretta Scott King is slowly recovering from a stroke that had left her unable to walk and barely able to speak, and she has been singing with a speech therapist, her daughter said Sunday.

“It’s not in the soprano voice that she has,” Bernice King said of her mother, a trained classical singer. “But it’s in a voice that’s good to hear.”

Doctors say the 78-year-old widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. suffered a stroke Tuesday that left her weakened on the right side of her body and mostly unable to speak.

At a prayer vigil at The King Center, Bernice King said her mother was able to lift her right leg Sunday.

About 400 people attended the vigil, including Christine King Farris, the sister of Martin Luther King Jr., and civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory.

The Rev. Joseph Roberts, senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, noted Coretta Scott King’s courage in the days after her husband was assassinated.

“That kind of person can never be put down,” he said. “We know the same spirit that carried her through the moments of sorrow ... is available to her even now.”

Dr. Maggie Mermin, King’s personal physician, said she is expected to remain at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital for another week or so.

An icon for civil rights
Although she has curtailed her public appearances in recent months, King remains an icon in the black community for the role she played in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

She continued to fight for equality after her husband was murdered in Memphis, Tenn., by a sniper on April 4, 1968. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate died while supporting striking sanitation workers.

His widow quickly created a memorial in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, with archives containing more than 2,000 King speeches, a complex built around the King crypt and an eternal flame.

She also campaigned successfully for a federal holiday celebrating his birthday, conducted annual "King Week" observances, restaged the 1963 march on Washington during which King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, and made appearances promoting his philosophy of nonviolence.

Views on her husband’s assassination
In 1998, she broke 30 years of silence on the subject of her husband's assassination, saying she did not believe James Earl Ray, the man sentenced to 99 years in prison for King's slaying, acted alone.

How strokes happenKing said she believed the assassination was the work of a high-level government conspiracy, as Ray contended, and pushed for the creation of a federal "truth" commission to investigate the matter.

Ray died in prison in 1998 at age 70.

In recent years, King has been active in the struggle to control the spread of AIDS in the black community, urging it to be more tolerant of gays. She also has criticized U.S. involvement in Iraq.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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