Monday, January 17, 2005

President Bush yesterday praised Martin Luther King for holding America’s founders to account and fighting for the freedom and equality laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

“Dr. King believed so fully in the ideals of America that he was offended every day that they were violated. He had studied the founding documents and found no exceptions to the promise of freedom,” the president said in a celebration of King’s 76th birthday.

“He was disappointed in the unfair practices of his country. Yet he said, ‘There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.’ Dr. King loved America enough to confront its injustices, not compromising the truth and not fearing any man — and America loves him in return,” Mr. Bush said to applause.

Georgetown University sponsored the memorial event for the slain civil rights leader at the Kennedy Center. It also was a tribute to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his wife, Alma, who were on hand to receive the John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award.

“More than four years ago when I needed a secretary of state, I knew what I was looking for,” the president said. “I wanted someone who believed deeply in the values of our country and could share them with the world, a person of wisdom and decency, a leader who could bring out the best in people. I found all this and more in Colin Powell.”

Mr. Bush noted that Alma Powell “served America as a soldier’s wife, moving the household 18 times,” and recalled her youth in Birmingham, Ala., with “her father during the worst of days sitting up at night with a shotgun by his side to protect his wife and his children.”

“You have chosen, on this important day for America, to pay tribute to a woman and a man who have upheld the highest ideal of American citizenship. In their love of country, and their heart for service, they show the same character found in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King,” the president said.

Mr. Bush marked the anniversary of King’s birth, on Jan. 15, 1929, by remembering how the civil rights leader changed the country through his love of its founding ideals and his disappointment that the promise of freedom was not met for all.

“We need our children to know how great the struggle for racial justice in our society has been and how much work remains to be done,” he said. “And we need the children of America to know that a single life of conscience and purpose can touch and lift up many lives.”

Americans took part in marches and rallies across the country yesterday.

In Atlanta, King’s hometown, parade spectators lined the streets, dancing to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” and listening to King’s speeches played over loudspeakers.

Several hundred people marched in support of homosexual rights, saying King’s message was one of inclusion.

“Dr. King’s dream is for everyone, not just one specific group of individuals,” said Michelle Bruce, a Riverdale City Council member who marched with TransAction, an advocacy group for transsexuals. “If you hate discrimination and racism, this is the place to come and march.”

At a King Day breakfast in Boston, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, made some of his strongest comments since Election Day about problems with voting in some states.

Although reiterating that he did not contest his Nov. 2 loss in the presidential election, Mr. Kerry said: “I nevertheless make it clear that thousands of people were suppressed in the effort to vote. Voting machines were distributed in uneven ways. In Democratic districts, it took people four, five, 11 hours to vote, while Republicans [went] through in 10 minutes — same voting machines, same process, our America.”

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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