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Americans Mark King Day With Service, Marches

January 22, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ATLANTA — Under the shadow of America's war on terrorism, thousands gathered across the country Monday to pay tribute to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his message of unity and equality.

In Atlanta, a standing-room-only crowd of about 2,000 packed Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the civil rights leader once preached. King, assassinated in 1968 at age 39, would have turned 73 last Tuesday.

"I can't help but think how Dr. King would be pleased at how we've come together since Sept. 11," said Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).

First Lady Laura Bush, who also attended the service, called King "a man committed to peace and a man committed to change."

"American history is unimaginable without him," Bush said. "He stood for truth, he did the will of God and made America a more just nation."

At the White House, President Bush signed a proclamation crediting King with helping the United States "become a fairer and more colorblind society" and announced the creation of federal scholarships encouraging young people to study education and public policy. But he cautioned: "There is much work to be done, both at home and abroad."

King's widow, Coretta Scott King; his son, Martin Luther King III; and daughter the Rev. Bernice King, presented Bush with a portrait of the slain civil rights leader.

The King scholarships will go to "promising students all across America," Bush said in the East Room to a crowd of about 200 administration officials, foreign ambassadors and civil rights leaders.

Coretta Scott King asked people to use the holiday as a day of service, as did her son, Martin Luther King III, in Detroit.

"We don't see it as a day off," he said. "We see it as a day on which people can be involved in community service."

In Boston, King's eldest daughter, Yolanda, addressed 1,500 people at the city's MLK Memorial Breakfast. She said Sept. 11 erased racial differences--for now.

"Skin color was covered by the ash of burning towers," she said. "Perhaps the best response to this tragedy is to not go back to normal."

Schoolchildren, public officials and religious leaders spent the day volunteering in communities around Pennsylvania.

Children from Jewish and Muslim schools worked at the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank to package food for needy families.

"It shows how much we can do to help people when we put our minds to it," said Sophia Bernstein, 12, a seventh-grader at Perelman Jewish Middle School.

"Everyone was touched by what happened Sept. 11 and because we're Muslims, some people in this country thought we were happy about it," said Hend Salah, 10, a fifth-grader at Al-Aqsa. "If kids are brought up right and brought up good, they won't believe those things."

More than 50,000 people attended the King Day march in San Antonio, one of the largest in the nation. T-shirts and hats bearing King's image were common in the crowd, as were American flags.

Members of the Democratic-controlled Colorado Senate were among the politicians in Denver's 17th annual King parade and march. Senators had the day off for the first time since Colorado recognized the holiday in 1984.

The Republican-controlled Colorado House of Representatives continued working.

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