By ERRIN HAINES (Associated Press)
Politics loomed over the ceremonies held Monday to mark the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday as Black clergy, elected officials and others tied the civil rights icon’s legacy to the 2012 election, urging African-Americans to re-elect President Barack Obama and condemning voter ID laws they warned are meant to suppress Black voters.
Monday, Jan. 16, was the federal holiday marking King’s birthday. He would have turned 83 on Sunday, Jan. 15.
In Atlanta, at Ebenezer Baptist Church — where King preached from 1960 until his death in 1968 — the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock accused GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich of using racial stereotypes to fire up Republican voters. On the campaign trail, Gingrich has referred to Obama as “the food stamp president” and earlier this month, he suggested that African Americans seek paychecks rather than public assistance.
Warnock called Gingrich’s comments “sickening and insulting.” The pastor also said some in America disrespect King’s legacy by “cutting off those for whom he died and the principles for which he fought,” pointing to voter ID laws that he called “unnecessary and unjustifiable.” He said such laws are an affront to the memory of the civil rights leader, who fought for equal access to the voting booth.
“You cannot celebrate Dr. King on Monday, and undermine people’s ability to vote on Super Tuesday,” Warnock said. He told the audience, “With your voice and your vote, let freedom ring!”
”Mr. Gingrich, we know what work ethic is,” Warnock said. ”We arrived on these shores on a jobs program. You’re a historian, you remember.”
Monday’s ceremony was the 44th annual commemorative service honoring King. The service was presided over by his only living sibling, Christine King Farris.
King’s youngest daughter, the Rev. Bernice A. King, challenged any businesses holding sales on the holiday weekend celebrating her father’s birthday to send 10 percent of their profits to The King Center, reminding them that Monday is ”a day on, not a day off.”
Congressman David Scott recalled Blacks and Whites during the Civil Rights Movement who gave their lives so that later generations would have the right to vote, and urged the crowd to remember their sacrifice.
“They’d say in one loud voice, go vote in 2012! Vote like you never voted before! And they’d say there’s only one person to vote for, and his name is President Barack Obama! Run and don’t get weary. All the way to the polls.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, an Obama surrogate, also tied the president’s re-election campaign to an extension of the Civil Rights Movement. He said it was time to get to work and dream again.
“The people that have made it possible have never asked us for anything,” Reed said. ”All they’ve asked us to do is to be worthy of