Clinton, crowd honor King

About 50 white separatists protested the King holiday Monday in the tiny town of Jena, La.


ATLANTA (AP) — More than 2,000 people crowded Ebenezer Baptist Church on Monday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to peace and equality and note the importance of his legacy in this election year.

“He understood that life is not about self. Life is about service — and service to others,” said Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Former President Bill Clinton, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin were among those attending the service.

King’s birthday is Jan. 15, but the federal holiday bearing his name is observed on the third Monday in January. It has been a national holiday since 1986, but his birthday has been observed at Ebenezer Baptist — where King preached from 1960 until 1968 — every year since his assassination in Memphis, Tenn., at age 39 on April 4, 1968.

“Martin aimed high, acted with faith, dreamed miracles that inspired a nation. Can we act on King’s legacy without dreaming? I think not,” Franklin said. “King’s legacy gives light to our hopes, permission to our aspirations and relevance to our dreams.”

“He freed us all to fight the civil rights battle, to fight the poverty battle, to fight all these battles and do it together,” Clinton said. “He made a place at the table for all of us.”

Clinton also noted the diverse presidential race that includes a Mormon, a black man and a Baptist preacher as well as his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Isn’t this interesting? I mean, how cool is it? You know, we’ve got all these different people seeking the presidency,” he said.

“And guess what? It’s all possible because of Martin Luther King’s vision of the beloved community.”

Clinton was allowed to speak as a former president, but organizers of the event at the crowded Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church King’s father founded, said political candidates would not be allowed to speak.

But Clinton, in an unusually frank recitation of his commitment to blacks, said that during his eight years in office, he moved far more people from poverty to the middle class than other administrations.

Reminding blacks that he has long been on their side, Clinton said he was at the March on Washington in the 1960s and that he had shared many triumphs with blacks.

“I went to the Mall. Some of you were there, and we were up to our ankles in mud,” he told the 40th annual commemorative service honoring King, his achievements and his memory.

Clinton said that on the day King died, he wondered what he should do, so he got a Red Cross sticker for his car and delivered supplies to the black community in Washington.

“As governor and president, I gave more important positions to women and people of color than all of my predecessors. Not because of me, but because of the influence of Martin Luther King in my life. I say that because it’s a constant thing.”

Franklin recently endorsed Democratic hopeful Barack Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton.

About 50 white separatists protested the King holiday Monday in the tiny town of Jena, La., which was thrust into the spotlight months ago by 20,000 demonstrators who claimed prosecutors discriminated against blacks.

Police separated participants in the “pro-majority” rally organized by the Learned, Miss.-based Nationalist Movement from a racially mixed group of about 100 counter-demonstrators outside the LaSalle Parish Courthouse. There was no violence and one arrest, a counter-demonstrator.

Chants of “No KKK” from the mostly college-age counter-demonstrators were met with a chant from the separatists that contained a racial epithet.

At one point, dozens of state police forced back about 10 people, dressed in New Black Panther uniforms, who had gathered around a podium where the separatist group’s leader Richard Barrett was to speak.

One man who broke away from that group was arrested and booked with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest; authorities identified him as William Winchester Jr. of New Orleans and said he was a member of the New Black Panthers. Members of the group at the scene declined to comment.

Race relations in Jena (population about 2,800) have been in the news ever since six black teenagers were arrested in the beating of a white classmate at Jena High School in December 2006.

About 20,000 people peacefully marched in support of the so-called Jena Six in September, and Monday’s demonstration was organized in opposition to both the teenagers and the King holiday.

Five of the black teens were originally charged with attempted murder, leading to accusations that they were being prosecuted harshly because of their race. Charges have since been reduced.