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On King Day, Focus Is on Iraq, Affirmative Action

The widow of the civil rights leader recalls his warning that war is 'a poor chisel for carving out a peaceful tomorrow.'

January 21, 2003|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — Civil rights leaders and politicians around the nation observed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Monday, many of them invoking King's name in arguing against war with Iraq and urging the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in college admissions.

King's widow, Coretta Scott King, addressed a crowd of about 1,000 at King's former pulpit, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. She called on world leaders to settle their differences peacefully.

"We commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. as a great champion of peace who warned us that war was a poor chisel for carving out a peaceful tomorrow," she said. "We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. Martin said: 'True peace is not just the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.' "

The pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, the Rev. Joseph Roberts, said a war with Iraq would dishonor King's legacy. "Have we learned nothing from this man of peace?" Roberts asked.

The civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1968, would have turned 74 last Wednesday. One of the largest Martin Luther King Day events was in Denver, where more than 30,000 people paid tribute to King and protested military action against Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is a scary person," said Vicki Rottman of the antiwar group Women in Black Standing in Silence for Peace. "What is scarier to me is that our country in this instance may be the aggressor."

Many simply remembered the way things were before the civil rights movement.

"He did so much for us," said Tiffany Smile, a 20-year-old junior at New York's State University at Purchase. "God only knows where we'd be without him."

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns spoke to an interdenominational alliance of Omaha-area ministers on Monday. "It's an opportunity to recognize a man who really was a leader during a very turbulent time in our history," he said. "Boy, it was a tough time for America."

Marchers in Boston sang gospel songs and carried flags and banners.

"We're here because Martin Luther King was a man of God," said Caring Hands Silva, a leader of the Natick Praying Indians, descendants of a tribe converted to Christianity in 1651. "What he represents is peace and brotherhood and love for all mankind."

In York, Pa., five white supremacists marched in opposition to King Day and in memory of a white police officer killed during the city's 1969 race riots.

"We said 'no' to affirmative action, whether it's Martin Luther King trying to win favoritism for minorities or protesters trying to shout me down," said the group's leader, Richard Barrett.

Hundreds of police officers were on patrol as protesters tried to drown out Barrett's speech.

Speaking from the pulpit in Montgomery, Ala., where King helped start the civil rights movement with his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Gov. Bob Riley was inaugurated with a promise to end racial division.

"Alabama needs to be the state that brings it to a culmination," Riley said. "Alabama is going to lead this nation in uniting the races once and for all."

Riley later attended, without speaking, a ceremony paying tribute to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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