Seigenthaler was the long time editor at The Tennessean newspaper, helped shape USA Today and worked for civil rights during the John F. Kennedy administration.
He died Friday at his home at age 86.
The services were open to the public. Several Nashville and Tennessee dignitaries were in attendance, including Former Vice President Al Gore. Some members of the Kennedy family were also present, including former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, current U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III and Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.
"He was just the most wonderful guy and I was just so lucky to know him," said Ethel Kennedy. "And Bobby adored him."
Charles Strobel, the founder of a homeless outreach group in Nashville, delivered the eulogy in which he said Seigenthaler's commitment to the principles of equality and fairness was "deeply spiritual."
"He spent a lifetime coming to the defense of others," Strobel said.
Strobel said journalism was a means for Seigenthaler to achieve his vision, but "if his beloved friend Robert Kennedy had become president, he would have left The Tennessean to serve him."
After Robert Kennedy's assassination, Seigenthaler came home to Nashville and became editor and then publisher of the Tennessean.
"He loved this city so much, and he loved the Tennesseean, and I just want to say thank you to the people of Nashville for having such a wonderful family that love this country so much and gave so much to all of us," said Joe Kennedy II, the son of Robert Kennedy.Gore, a former Tennessee senator, recounted after the funeral how Seigenthaler had offered him a job after Gore returned home from Vietnam. Gore was hired at a reporter on The Tennessean at $95 a week.
"He was one of my most important role models and mentors," Gore said.
Emmylou Harris sang "We Shall Overcome," a protest song by the late Pete Seeger that become linked with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen said after the funeral and Seigenthaler was one of the first people he met when he moved to Nashville. Bredesen said Seigethaler was "a great person to seek advice from quietly."
"I'll really miss him," Bredesen said, "but what a great life."
Thousands of people also turned out Sunday for the viewing. The casket was placed in the lobby of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, which Seigenthaler himself founded in 1991 and directed.
The funeral will be rebroadcast on NewsChannel 5+ at 7 p.m. Monday.
(Copyright 2014 NewsChannel 5/The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)