Yankees know zilch about manners

In a clipped Long Island accent, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne used "inappropriate" at least five times in five minutes on cable TV to describe two eulogies at Coretta Scott King's funeral last week in Atlanta.

Observing the services, Rush Limbaugh complained that the "Democratic Party now crashes funerals."

MSNBC host Tucker Carlson said the Rev. Joe Lowery's and former President Jimmy Carter's funeral speeches were "rude as hell."

Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes said Carter was "a cheap partisan, a very petty man."

That was just the beginning.

One by one, Yankee white folks - most of them big-shot Republican talkers - lined up before national TV cameras to denounce partisan speeches delivered at King's funeral. Some barely restrained themselves from terming the entire six-hour service a bizarre circus.

I do not know the precise point they were trying to make. Each persuaded me that they were embarrassingly ignorant of the American South, black traditions and the King family's very partisan legacy.

Obviously, not one of them had ever attended a funeral for a prominent black person. Just as obviously, none had ever dreamed of visiting a black church during a civil rights rally. King's funeral served as a double feature - a tribute to her and a call for nonviolent action against what many black citizens see as present-day injustices.

Thank goodness, I did not hear any noted Southerner, either Republican or Democrat, join the condescending criticism. Most of us in the South were raised to know better.

The celebrity critics made fools of themselves. Shame on them! Criticizing somebody else's funeral is bad manners and worse. Allowing such a display of ignorance is a symptom of the national media's journalistic slippage. How could any knowledgeable producer have allowed the broadcast of such an avalanche of out-of-step unawareness?

King's funeral set the standard for memorial services for American blacks' royalty. It was a wondrous event. Those who planned it ought to be congratulated and honored.

Of course, a lot of it was showbiz. It was noisy and perhaps lacked the solemnity of, say, a white Anglican service in Oyster Bay, a Catholic mass in Westport or a Methodist memorial on Sea Island. For many fidgety white audiences, the King event was at least five hours too long.

However, the elaborate and prolonged rites reflected precisely the expectations of many upper- and middle-class blacks.

To object to the partisan tone of the service was like protesting the moonrise.

Surely, no one seriously believed that former MLK lieutenant Joe Lowery would miss a TV opportunity to take pokes at the Bush administration. The wonder was that he did not spend more time bashing Bush.

As for Carter, how could any trained reporter think he would not assail the current administration's policies? He just published a best-selling book, "Our Endangered Values," on the perceived sins of the religious right. Carter, with the help of the King family, tossed Republicans out of the White House 30 years ago. Carter also knew the right buttons to push to win enthusiastic applause. Throwing haymakers at George Bush and mentioning wiretaps were bound to bring down the house.

To their credit, President and Mrs. George W. Bush handled themselves with grace and good humor. They must have known that they would receive a bit of guff. If the Carter-Lowery barrage got to the Bush family, they did not show it.

In a sense, all the great outpouring at the funeral of King served as compensation for the hesitancy of the nation's leaders to pay homage to her slain husband Martin Luther King Jr. at his Atlanta funeral in 1968.

By the way, if GOP strategists wonder why they can't attract support among blacks, they should review their talking heads' assessment of the King services. If they can't figure out the problem from those uninformed and insensitive comments, then Republicans ought to give up on ever winning many black votes. One would think leaders of the party of Lincoln would know better.

Clarification: We reported last week that Gov. Lester Maddox failed to lower the flag to half-staff during the 1968 funeral of Dr. King. Reader Phil Jordan says we were right, but adds that "Mr. Ben Fortson, our Secretary of State, had the flag placed at half-staff ... Gov. Maddox went out on the balcony and saw the funeral procession coming toward the Capitol. He looked up and saw the flag where Mr. Ben had placed it, turned and walked away, leaving the flag as he had found it." Thanks, Phil, for setting us straight.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.