Dalton residents Tuesday remembered Coretta Scott King not only as the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. but as a major civil rights figure herself.

“It’s a sad, sad day. She was a freedom fighter,” said Michael Council, president of the Whitfield County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

King died Tuesday in her sleep at a clinic in Mexico, her family said. She had been recovering from a serious stroke and heart attack suffered last August. She was 78.

Dalton resident Chris Gregg met King at a dinner in Atlanta in 2001. He recalls being impressed by her openness and modesty.

“She was very down to earth, very easy to talk to,” he said.

That’s an assessment shared by Dalton City Council member Terry Christie, who also met King once briefly.

“I was very impressed with the way she carried herself,” he said.

John Hutcheson, a professor of history and vice president of academic affairs at Dalton State College, said King provided tremendous support to her husband during some of the most trying times of the civil rights movement.

“And after his death, she became the guardian of his legacy, fighting to continue the civil rights struggle and to have a national holiday enacted in his honor. And she did all of this while raising their children and keeping her family together,” he said.

King marched with her husband from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery to help win greater voting rights for blacks. Just days after his death, she returned to Memphis, the city where he was assassinated, to lead a march for civil rights in his honor. She later founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

“She brought a lot of change about, and she helped a lot of people along the way, black people and white people,” said Eugene Miller, owner of Miller Brothers Rib Shack and former president of the Whitfield County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Political leaders from across the state remembered King on Tuesday.

“Coretta Scott King was one of the most influential civil rights leaders of our time,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue. “While her husband was the public face of the civil rights movement, no person is that successful without strong support at home. She was the anchor on which he depended, allowing him to reach historic triumphs.

“Coretta Scott King, along with thousands of others, took a morally courageous stand to end segregation in our nation and fought for equal treatment for all citizens under the law. Mrs. King was a gracious and kind woman whose calm, measured words rose above the din of political rhetoric. For decades, she proudly bore the torch of her husband’s legacy. Now she has passed it on to a new generation to keep the dream alive.”

Perdue ordered flags on state buildings flown at half staff Tuesday in her honor.

“King was a great partner in the civil rights movement and a tireless worker in preserving the legacy of her husband, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

“She was a devoted wife, mother, and strong leader in the civil rights movement. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire King family at this sorrowful time,” said U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

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