- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 17, 2010

President Obama on Sunday recalled the work of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as he urged those packing a Baptist church to take heart in hard times and celebrate progress, however small.

On the eve of the federal holiday marking King’s birth, the first black president said he learned — as did the civil rights leader — to rely on his faith even as he felt the “sting of criticism” during his first year as president.

Mr. Obama pointed specifically to his attempts to move the country out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression while pressing for an overhaul of the health care system.

Speaking at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, founded in 1866 by former slaves, Mr. Obama called King and those who fought with him for civil rights the “Moses generation.” He exhorted parishioners — those he termed the “Joshua generation” — to “get back to basics” as Americans faced the challenges of a “new age.”

The president was headed to Boston in support of the Senate candidacy of state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is in a tight race for the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Her defeat would upend the Democrat’s 60-vote majority in the Senate, making it impossible to overcome a filibuster that could kill hard-fought health care legislation.

In his remarks at the Washington church, Mr. Obama reflected on the difficulties he has faced in pushing key elements of his legislative agenda through Congress and the periodic distractions that have arisen from remarks about his race.

Referring to the “post-racial” and “post-partisan” shift in the country that many observers predicted would flow from his inauguration a year ago, he said, “That didn’t work out so well.”

Mr. Obama was accompanied to the church by first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia.

King himself spoke in 1956 at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, located just over a mile north of the White House.

Then a 27-year-old preacher who was emerging as a prominent voice in the civil rights movement, King visited Washington shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a ruling that led to the end of racial segregation aboard city buses in Montgomery, Ala. King was one of the leaders of a bus boycott that lasted more than a year.

Monday is the first King holiday since Mr. Obama became president.

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