King’s legacy of peace lauded
Recent violence sharpens focus on justice, service
ATLANTA — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as a preacher of peace and tolerance was lauded yesterday as Americans marked his memorial day just over a week after the shootings in Arizona that killed six people and seriously wounded a congresswoman.
Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at King’s former church in Atlanta, praised him as “our nation’s greatest drum major of peace’’ and said the Jan. 8 bloodshed was a call to recommit to King’s values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion, and justice.
“A senseless rampage in Tucson reminded us that more than 40 years after Dr. King’s own tragic death, our struggle to eradicate violence and to promote peace goes on,’’ Holder said.
President Obama, in Washington, said part of King’s legacy was about service and urged Americans to get out into their communities — a step he suggested would have special meaning after the shootings.
“After a painful week where so many of us were focused on the tragedy, it’s good for us to remind ourselves of what this country is all about,’’ he told reporters as he and first lady Michelle Obama took part in a painting project at a school on Capitol Hill.
National and local politicians joined members of the King family at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to mark what would have been the civil rights icon’s 82d birthday. Members of the King family also laid a wreath at the tombs of King and his widow, Coretta Scott King, on the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday established to honor the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who worked with King during the civil rights movement, issued a renewed call for Americans to unite in peace and love as King preached.
“If Dr. King could speak to us today, he would tell us that it does not matter how much we disapprove of another person’s point of view, there is never a reason to deny another human being the respect he or she deserves,’’ Lewis said.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer, called for members of Congress to show solidarity during the State of the Union address this month. Quoting the Bible and Abraham Lincoln, he said, “ ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ ’’
“Maybe, after Arizona, what our children need to see is us sitting together,’’ Warnock said.
The King Center in Atlanta said a $120 million memorial to King will be dedicated in Washington on Aug. 28. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, which has been 15 years in the making, will include a 28-foot sculpture of the leader.
Harry E. Johnson Sr., president of the memorial foundation, said the timing of the dedication is appropriate because it is the 25th year of the national holiday and because America is now facing many of the same problems King talked about.
Yesterday was also an opportunity for the NAACP to underscore its opposition in South Carolina to a Confederate flag that flies outside the State House, separately from the state flag, where it was moved from atop the dome in 2000 after protests by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
At a rally for the King holiday in Columbia, the Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina NAACP president, said the flag’s presence disrespects people not only in South Carolina but across the nation.
But the South Carolina commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans disagreed. “They have the right to view it any way they wish. . . . It is our heritage, and we will honor it,’’ said Mark Simpson.