Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coretta Scott King, U.S. Civil Rights Activist, Dies at Age 78

ATLANTA -- Coretta Scott King, who surged to the front of the fight for racial equality in the United States after her husband Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, has died at age 78, friends and family said on Tuesday.

King died overnight, the family said in a statement. She suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack in August.

King's steely determination, grace and class won her millions of admirers inside and outside the civil rights movement.

She was last seen in public Jan. 14 at a dinner marking the Martin Luther King Jr., national holiday, where she received a standing ovation from the 1,500 people in the crowd.

John Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia and civil rights leader, said her death was "a very sad hour."

"Long before she met and married Dr. King, she was an activist for peace and civil rights and for civil liberties," he told CNN. "She became the embodiment, the personification [of the civil rights movement after Dr. King's death], keeping the mission, the message, the philosophy of nonviolence in the forefront."

At the White House, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, told Fox television: "[U.S. President George W.] Bush and first lady, Laura Bush, were always heartened by their meetings with Mrs. King. What an inspiration to millions of people. President and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened by today's news."

Coretta Scott King played a backup role in the civil rights movement until her husband was assassinated on a Memphis motel balcony on April 4, 1968, while supporting a sanitation workers strike.