Nation Observes MLK Day

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Coretta Scott King asked Americans on Monday to keep her husband's "vibrant spirit of unconditional love" alive by working for peace, justice and economic equality.

The widow of Martin Luther King Jr. opened the annual King Day ecumenical service in Atlanta's historic sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church by reviewing the accomplishments of "America's greatest champion of racial justice and equality."

King, who would have turned 72 Monday, endured threats and beatings and was jailed 39 times during his fight for racial equality and kept on fighting even though he knew he would pay "the ultimate price" for his leadership of the civil rights movement, she said.

She called on King's followers to "get involved in helping to build the beloved community of his dream" by supporting affirmative action and gun control, opposing the death penalty and racial profiling, living a nonviolent life and urging Congress to pay off the debts of African nations.

"Make your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength," she said.

While Monday was observed nationwide as a holiday with closed financial markets, banks, government buildings and public schools, the country's incoming and outgoing presidents addressed crowds to discuss current racial issues in the United States.

Facing deep suspicion among black Americans, President-elect George Bush was marking the holiday with a trip to a Houston elementary school to call for unity and to highlight his education proposals.

Joining him Monday at Kelso Elementary School was Rod Paige, the president-elect's choice for education secretary. Paige, who is black, runs the Houston school district and is a product of segregated schools in Mississippi.

Bush is addressing "the powerful and important role that Martin Luther King played in changing America," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"Making racial progress in this country, regardless of who is in the White House or who is in the Congress, is an ongoing struggle, and he's committed to it," Fleischer said.

Blacks favored Democrat Al Gore by a 9-to-1 margin in the November election, and by better than a 2-to-1 margin, most blacks believe they will lose influence, rather than gain it, under Bush, according to a Pew Research Center poll this month.

President Clinton led volunteers sprucing up a senior citizen center in Washington, D.C., reports CBS News Correspondent Stephen Clark. It was the president's fourth year of participating in a community service project on the King holiday.

The president also planned to send Congress a list of recommendations on how to improve race relations in America.

Mr. Clinton called for an end to what he calls the "intolerable practice" of racial profiling. He also says Election Day should be declared a national holiday and that the incoming Bush administration should appoit a nonpartisan commission on election reform.

In Columbia, S.C., hundreds of people gathered for a rally to oppose the presence of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the Statehouse. Although the flag has been removed from Statehouse dome, its presence on the grounds overshadowed South Carolina's first celebration of a regular King Day holiday for state workers, said NAACP official Dwight James.

"That flag is one of those symbols that divides us," he said.

As Americans remembered the slain civil rights leader with parades and celebrations throughout the country, Martin Luther King III spoke at a lively morning worship service dedicated to the life and legacy of his father.

He spoke out against capital punishment and his hopes to have a productive relationship with the Bush administration.

"What we don't need is compassionate conservatism. Because servitude says today let's execute a man," King said. "Compassionate hearts say let's make sure we use a clean needle."

While "freedom trains" are bringing celebrants to San Francisco for the annual Freedom March and Rally and Philadelphia is hosting a ceremony at the Liberty Bell with bells pealing across the city, one woman was arrested Monday while protesting outside the national civil rights museum in Memphis, Tenn.

Jacqueline Smith, who has protested daily for 13 years against the museum, was taken into custody for disorderly conduct. Police officer G. Terry-Cook said Smith allegedly resisted police as they removed protest banners she had placed over traffic signs near the museum.

The museum is the site of King's 1968 assassination. The former Lorraine Motel was converted and first opened in 1991 as the museum, which Smith tells passers-by is a tourist trap and not a proper reflection of King's work or message.

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