Americans Honor Dr. King

Crowds gathered Monday at two Georgia churches where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached to hear him hailed as a man who "paid the ultimate price" so that others could be free.

No other man in modern times has done more to lift the dignity of the common man, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop told a packed Ebenezer Baptist Church during the Atlanta service marking the King Day holiday.

"He demonstrated that nonviolence is a way to effect change," Bishop said, speaking from the same pulpit that King once preached from. "He lived under constant threat of harassment ... and he paid the ultimate price - death so that we may have life and have it more abundantly."

In Montgomery, Ala., Governor-elect Don Siegelman attended a service in the church where King preached during the period of the 1955 bus boycott that became a landmark in the history of civil rights.

"What happened in this small sanctuary, what happened in these streets outside, changed this nation," Siegelman said at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. In the boycott, which began after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, Spiegelman said, "a spark ignited that changed this nation."

The national holiday honors King and his teachings of nonviolence and social justice. Last Friday would have been King's 70th birthday; he was assassinated in 1968.

In Washington, President Clinton marked the day by visiting with senior citizens at a local retirement home as part of an Americorps service project. The visit was part of a national focus on service in the spirit of the King.

Mr. Clinton began celebrating King Day activities Sunday, joining hands with his wife, Hillary, to sing We Shall Overcome during services at Foundry United Methodist Church that were devoted to King's message of nonviolence and racial tolerance. They also sang the black anthem Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Mr. Clinton urged Americans to honor King with "a day on, not a day off." He suggested they take part in an effort by his Americorps national service program to get 100,000 people to take part in volunteer programs. Members of the Clinton cabinet also planned to perform volunteer work Monday.

Vice President Al Gore marked the holiday by announcing a proposal for a 15 percent increase in funds for enforcing U.S. civil rights laws.

"These funds will help ensure that no American is denied a job, a home, or an education because of their race, color, creed, gender, or religion. And instead we will help ensure equal opportunity for all Americans," Gore said at Regency House, a senior citizens' apartment complex in Washington..

In Columbia, S.C., today, Gov. Jim Hodges said he wants to make King Day a permanent state holiday, removing the stigma as the only state without the mandate.

"There is strong support for maing Martin Luther King Day a state holiday," said Hodges, newly sworn in as the first Democratic governor in 12 years, at a breakfast honoring the slain civil rights leader.

"I can assure you support of my administration to try to bring that dream into reality," said Hodges, who won election in November with strong black support.

State law currently allows employees to pick any day as an optional holiday.

During the Atlanta service, King's widow, Coretta Scott King, presented the 1999 Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize to John Hume, who last year shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

"We did not seek ideological confrontation," Hume told the audience. "We believed in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. We believed in inclusivity, not exclusivity. We believed that true unity among all Irish people was unity of the heart, not unity of the soil."