NEWVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The funeral for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s mother focused as much on her life as it did on her son and the civil rights movement.
Hundreds of people packed a small rural church in southeastern Alabama to remember Ada Essie Sharpton, who died at 87 on Thursday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
“The journey of her existence was the journey of this country,” Al Sharpton said.
When she was born in Springfield, Ohio, she couldn’t vote, had to sit in the back of the bus and was forced to go to segregated schools, he said.
“That was her entry. In her exit, the first black president of the United States sent a letter to her funeral,” he said, referring to a note from President Barack Obama.
Ada Sharpton was raised in Alabama and later moved with her husband to New York. Al Sharpton described taking his college friends in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a Baptist church, where his mother would sing and be “overcome with the spirit,” not caring about who was watching.
She moved back to Alabama in 1989.
Ada Sharpton’s white casket, adorned with an arrangement of pink and white roses, was carried in by members of the Golden Gate Funeral Home — a Dallas-based group known for its singing, rhythmic stepping and crowning of the dead.
The small 200-seat Center Baptist Church was filled to capacity, with mourners crowding along the wall to hear from different black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King III, NAACP president Ben Jealous and TV Judge Greg Mathis.
Georgetown University sociology professor and radio host Michael Eric Dyson called Ada Sharpton a mother who nurtured a number of the powerful men gathered at the church.
“Al Sharpton’s genius testifies to his mother’s greatness,” Dyson said.
Flava King left from Atlanta with a group of about 12 people to attend the funeral. King said he was a supporter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and came to honor Sharpton and his mother.
“We love him, and his mother didn’t even know who he was, and that’s sad,” King said, referring to stories Sharpton has told of his mother not being able to recall the civil rights leader because of her Alzheimer’s. “That’s why we came down — to show him we know who he is.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.