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Obama marks Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with call to service

January 16, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama makes remarks as first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia listen at the Browne Education Center Jan. 16, 2012 in Washington.
President Obama makes remarks as first lady Michelle Obama and daughter… (Mike Theiler / Pool/Getty…)

Reporting from Washington   — President Obama used the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to make a call for public service Monday, saying it was particularly important for Americans to "pull together" at a time of economic hardship.

Obama, in brief remarks at a public school in northeast Washington, also addressed some "controversy" over a quote chiseled into the new memorial for the slain civil rights leader.

On the side of the stone monument reads this quote from King: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." But critics said the abbreviated quote misrepresented King's intent, a point Obama acknowledged Monday.

"If you look at that speech talking about Dr. King as a drum major, what he really said was that all of us can be a drum major for service, all of us can be a drum major for justice. There's nobody who can’t serve. Nobody who can’t help somebody else," the president said.

"At a time when the country has been going through some difficult economic times, for us to be able to come together as a community, people from all different walks of life, and make sure that we’re giving back, that's ultimately what makes us the strongest, most extraordinary country on Earth," he said.

The Interior Department has ordered the quote be replaced. Members of the King family, the King Memorial Foundation and others will decide what should go in its place.

The president, joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia were to join other volunteers in a service project at the Browne Education Campus, which serves District of Columbia children from preschool through eighth grade.

Monday night the Obamas will attend the Let Freedom Ring Celebration at the Kennedy Center.

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