By JEFFREY COLLINS (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his family marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a volunteer service project at a local school. The Obamas joined other volunteers Monday morning at the Browne Education Campus in the District of Columbia.
After greeting volunteers, the president and his family helped build bookshelves in the school’s library. This is the third year in a row the Obamas have participated in a service project on King’s holiday.
Washington is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, where some braved temperatures around 30 degrees to visit the 30-foot statue of King.
In Columbia, S.C., meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied outside the state Capitol to honor King and to protest the state’s voter identification law. The U.S. Justice Department has rejected the law. The Obama administration said it didn’t pass muster under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory practices that prevented Blacks from voting. On Monday, marchers carried signs that read: “Voter ID(equals)Poll Tax.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke, along with William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, who spoke during a morning prayer service and left little doubt that the law would be the day’s focus.
Barber said it was a critical time to make sure hard-fought voting rights are not lost. “We are here to stand up, not to back down,” Barber said.
Several other states have enacted laws similar to the one passed in South Carolina, which requires voters to show a photo ID before casting ballots. Texas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin are among them. Such laws already were on the books in Georgia and Indiana, and they were approved by President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. Indiana’s law, passed in 2005, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
Critics have likened the laws to the poll taxes and tests used to prevent Blacks from voting during the civil rights era. Supporters, many of whom are Republicans, say such laws are needed to prevent fraud.
In Holder’s prepared remarks Monday, the nation’s top attorney pledged to make the nation’s elections system more accessible to U.S. citizens. Holder disagreed with those who say parts of the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary.
“I wish this were the case. But the reality is that — in jurisdictions across the country — both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common,” he said.
“And though nearly five decades have passed since Dr. King shared his vision from the mountaintop — despite all the progress we’ve made, the barriers we’ve broken down, and the divisions we’ve healed — as a nation, we have not yet reached the Promised Land.”