- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

President Bush paid tribute to Martin Luther King yesterday, saying prejudice continues "holding people back" more than 30 years after the death of the civil rights leader.
"We remember the dream of Martin Luther King and remember his clear vision for a society that's equal and a society full of justice," Mr. Bush said at a predominantly black church in Landover, Md., where he was accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. "There is still prejudice holding people back."
The King Day tribute came five days after Mr. Bush said whites are being discriminated against at the University of Michigan, which gives 20 points to black and Hispanic students on a 150-point admissions scale. The administration filed a brief Thursday with the Supreme Court supporting white students who oppose racial preferences at the university.
Democrats have accused the Republican Party of racism, citing the furor last month over remarks by Sen. Trent Lott, Mississipi Republican, that led to his ouster from the Senate leadership post. Democrats also pointed to Mr. Bush's renomination of federal Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr., who has been accused of racial insensitivity, for an appeals court appointment.
"We're celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday," the Rev. Al Sharpton said Sunday on CNN. "Martin Luther King said in that famous 'I Have a Dream' speech that America has given blacks he said 'negroes' a check marked 'insufficient funds.'
"Clearly he was saying that as we seek a color-blind society, we must make up for what we have done to those of color. I would suggest now that the check has been marked 'stop payment' by the Bush administration.
"I think we still must collect on the check Dr. King talked about," said Mr. Sharpton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. "And it's very interesting to me that those that were not in the civil rights movement are trying to talk about what the movement wanted to do."
Mr. Bush, however, said at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden: "Government can write checks but it cannot put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives."
The White House, meanwhile, announced yesterday a $317 million increase in funding for historically black colleges and universities.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said there was nothing inconsistent about opposing racial preferences in the Michigan case while singling out black colleges for a 5 percent boost in government funding.
"What's the contradiction?" he asked reporters. "The president believes in diversity and the president believes in education.
"And he has increased funds sharply for historically black colleges and universities, and done so proudly," the spokesman added. "He thinks that's a worthy goal."
Complicating the race issue for Mr. Bush is Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's public disagreement over the Michigan affirmative-action case. Mr. Powell said Sunday that he is "a strong proponent of affirmative action."
"Whereas I have expressed my support for the policies used by the University of Michigan, the president, in looking at it, came to the conclusion that it was constitutionally flawed based on the legal advice he received," he told CBS.
Miss Rice, who is opposed to the university's admissions policy, said, however, that race still can be a factor in achieving diversity on college campuses.
"I think there's nothing wrong with that in the United States," Miss Rice told NBC. "It does not mean that one has to go to people of lower quality. Race is a factor in our society."
Such talk has angered conservative purists, who argue that any consideration of skin color in college admissions ultimately leads to discrimination against white and Asian students. Mr. Bush's brief left the door open for racial preferences under some circumstances, they say.
In their criticism of Mr. Bush, liberals cited the statements by Miss Rice and Mr. Powell.
"You have everyone from Condoleezza Rice to Colin Powell to Al Sharpton, everybody is taking a position," said Mr. Sharpton, adding that Mr. Bush is "on the other side. I think that is kind of extreme."
"Affirmative action didn't start with liberal Democrats," he added. "It started under conservative Richard Nixon, a Republican administration. It was a conservative remedy, and I think that is why you have even people that I would consider conservative, like Ms. Rice, saying you can't act like it cannot be a factor that we must consider."
Although some of the 500 congregants interrupted Mr. Bush's speech yesterday with cheers and shouts of "Amen," others were not impressed.
Church member Pat Williams, a federal employee, said she disagreed with him on the Michigan case.
"We need affirmative action," she said. "I don't want to try and read someone's mind, but you can't stop affirmative action and still honor Dr. King."
Miss Williams said the congregation was "not really" excited about the president making an appearance at her church.
"I guess it's an honor," she shrugged. "If my pastor agrees to let him come, I'll back my pastor."
Congregant Rebecca Holley also disagreed with Mr. Bush on affirmative action but added that he is "in a very awkward position, and he's not going to please everybody."
The service was one of many honoring King's memory on the federal holiday named after him. His widow, Coretta Scott King, told an Atlanta church congregation that world leaders should avoid war in Iraq.
"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.'"

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