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300 join in prayer for Coretta King

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It was miles from her days at the New England Conservatory, but Coretta Scott King has begun singing again, starting with "Happy Birthday."

The simple act is a big leap in the wake of last week's stroke and heart attack that debilitated her speech, her daughter said Sunday.

She also lifted her right leg.

"She's not paralyzed. The right side is just weak," Bernice King told a crowd of about 300 gathered at a prayer vigil.

The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. now has a speech therapist. They sang a gospel song. When the therapist forgot the words to "Jesus Loves Me," King finished the song.

"For the Bible tells me so," the widow sang in a weak, but significant tone.

"It's not her usual soprano voice, but it's a voice that's good to hear," her daughter said.

That news brought applause from the crowd of people who showed up in front of the King Center in downtown Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.

Her doctors estimate that King, 78, will need to stay at least another week at Piedmont Hospital, where she is undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

A week ago, King was taken to Piedmont when her daughter Yolanda King noticed she had stopped speaking. "She's doing pretty good. She's making one step at a time," said daughter Bernice King. "This is a temporary situation, but it's not a permanent condition." 

Those who gathered despite the oppressive heat prayed for an hour and a half, led by a few ministers and a priest. Among the attendees were the Rev. King's sister, Christine King Ferris; his son, Martin Luther King III; and entertainer Dick Gregory.

Dictated by the preachers, the crowd often turned to face north --- the direction of the Buckhead hospital --- and clapped.

"Let her hear you. We love you, Mrs. King. We love what you mean to us," said the event's organizer, the Rev. Markel Hutchins.

There was a bit of exorcism, too.

"Sickness, you're defeated!" shouted Deleice Drane, another minister.

Coretta Scott King was a rising star at the New England Conservatory in Boston when she married her husband in 1953.

The group swelled with many tourists who stopped after catching sight of the television cameras and a podium with the widow's portrait attached.

Seventeen-year-old Erik Irwin and his father, Byron, of New Jersey were walking in the national park site when they came across the vigil. They stayed and held other participants' hands during a prayer.

"You learn so much more here than in school," said the high school junior. "It's a great experience."

Others could not grasp life without the widow.

"Up until now, I didn't think about her not being around," said Charles Bains, 19, of College Park, who showed up in a gray suit. "You don't think about her disappearing. She's Coretta Scott King."

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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