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King's message pondered on national holiday

Clinton in church

January 15, 1996
Web posted at:

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- On what would have been his 67th birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. was honored with memorial services, speeches and marches throughout the country.

President Bill Clinton, who spoke to 1,500 people gathered for a memorial service at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, called King "a man who challenged us to face our flaws and become a better nation."

Clinton lays wreath

Clinton, who later laid a wreath at King's tomb, told the crowd the nation must be "the world's drum major for peace."

Lengthy applause and chants of "Four more years!" greeted the president as he rose to address the crowd on the federal holiday established 10 years ago.

Coretta King

King's widow, Coretta Scott King, told Clinton she admires the way he has "stood for the principles of decency," and asked Clinton to "convey our appreciation to Mrs. Clinton, a truly great first lady, very much in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt."

King was shot by an assassin on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty to the murder, is serving a 99-year sentence.

In Washington on Monday, Rev. Jesse Jackson told a crowd of about 1,000 mostly African-Americans that history was inaccurately portraying Martin Luther King as being too passive.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting honoring King, Jackson said, "Dr. King. A flower in one ear, a dove on the other, 'If I can help somebody' on his lips. A passive, pathetic figure. That's not the Martin Luther King of history. He believed in an activist's peace whose content was justice. He defined peace as a presence of justice, not quietness and the absence of noise.

"So to teach our children to imitate and emulate Dr. King with the hands clasped and the flower and the dove and some 'I'm dreaming' position -- teach them I ain't going to let nobody turn me around. Teach them we shall overcome. Teach them fight back," Jackson said.

Thousands of people gathered at a park in Denver to honor King with speeches and a three-mile march into downtown.

In Indianapolis at Martin University, named for the slain civil rights leader, Sen. Dick Lugar recalled for 200 people the night King was assassinated.

"Crisis came in an awesome, horrible way that night," said Lugar, then the 36-year-old mayor of Indianapolis and now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Rev. Cecil Washington spoke to the 700 people who gathered in Junction City, Kansas, telling them to continue the fight for civil rights and to build on the foundations laid by King.

In Midland, Michigan, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young told hundreds of people the slain civil right leader helped foster a revolution that brought people together and fueled change, while avoiding violence.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders spoke to about 4,000 people in Ann Arbor, Michigan, saying too many people are still trying to realize King's dream of racial equality.

In Kentucky, Gov. Paul Patton served as grand marshal of the 24th motorcade and rally held in Louisville by the Peoples Rights in Demanding Equality. Ceremonies in Lexington included a march and a holiday celebration at the civic center.

Holiday sparks controversy

Angry protesters in Concord, New Hampshire, shouted down four white supremacists who had rallied to "congratulate" New Hampshire for remaining the only state without a formal Martin Luther King holiday.

Thirty members of a group calling itself the "National People's Campaign," knocked over the supremacists' podium and flags and shouted "Nazism must go."

A member of the supremacist group said, "It's interesting on the so-called Civil Rights Day, the civil rights people won't let me speak. I'll face them down . The minority's day is over. The majority's day is here."

The white supremacists, who had a permit for their rally, retreated into the state house and returned only when the state agreed to set up barricades between the two groups.

New Hampshire's legislature has defeated a bill to give the state a Martin Luther King Day seven times since 1979. However, lawmakers approved a Civil Rights Day in 1991 on the third Monday in January, the same as the federal holiday.

In New York, a disagreement over whether 200 participants in a march over the Brooklyn Bridge could walk on the roadway or the sidewalk led to a protest of New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani's King Day speech.

The marchers, led by Reverend Al Sharpton, said it was agreed that they could use the roadway. But police said the agreement was that they would walk on the sidewalk, which would not pose a safety hazard.

In retaliation, Sharpton and the would-be marchers barged into a King celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music -- where the mayor was speaking - and interrupted his speech.

The mayor was met with applause when he told them "I don't believe it's in the spirit of Dr. King to interrupt people."

The National Black Nurses Association waited until Martin Luther King Day to announce it was canceling its 1998 annual conference in San Francisco to protest California Gov. Pete Wilson's revocation of affirmative action policies.


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