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Clinton Leads Tribute To King

January 15, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ President Clinton remembered Martin Luther King Jr. today as a man who forced the United States to ``face our flaws and become a better nation.″

King would have approved sending U.S. troops to keep peace in Bosnia, Clinton added.

The slain civil rights leader’s legacy is reminding the nation it must be ``the world’s drum major for peace,″ Clinton said, referring to King’s own description of himself as a ``drum major for justice.″

``If that is our role, to be drum majors for peace and justice around the world, surely that must be our responsibility here at home,″ the president said. ``Even as we seek to help each other bridge their differences, ... we have a ways to go ourselves. There needs to be more peace and freedom on our streets.″

Clinton was greeted at Ebenezer Baptist Church with lengthy applause from about 1,500 people and a warm embrace from civil rights activists and black politicians. The crowd stood and chanted, ``Four More Years!″ as the president rose to speak three hours after he arrived.

``We know about what they’re going through in Bosnia. We started out with a Constitution that stated slaves were not full citizens, not fully human,″ Clinton said. ``We lived through bitter days of lynchings and riots. Still today we struggle to overcome.″

``In this holiday we celebrate the life of a man who challenged us to face our flaws and become a better nation,″ Clinton said.

Ayinde Jean-Baptiste, the 12-year-old Chicago boy whose eloquence electrified the crowd at the Million Man March in Washington in October, led a litany during today’s ecumenical service.

Clinton shook his hand when he was finished, and the crowd applauded enthusiastically.

King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, told Clinton she admires the way he has ``stood for the principles of decency,″ and asked Clinton to ``convey our appreciation to Mrs. Clinton, a truly great first lady, very much in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.″

Clinton was flanked by Mrs. King and her son, Dexter Scott King, president of the King Center. As he took the dais, the president embraced Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., named recently the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

King, who would have been 67 today, was killed in 1968. His birthday was made a federal holiday in 1986.

Clinton was the keynote speaker during the service at Ebenezer, where King, his father and maternal grandfather served for 81 years.

The visit has political significance for Clinton. He hopes to mobilize black voters in large numbers this year to help win reelection without abandoning the multiracial coalition that forged his victory in 1992.

An architect of that coalition, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, told Clinton ``we are always honored to have you in our state,″ then compared King to Moses, who started the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt but did not live to see it through.

The White House issued a list of ``African-American accomplishments″ of the Clinton administration, including the president’s defense of affirmative action programs and the fact that black unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent in November, down from 12.6 percent when Clinton took office in 1993.

Elsewhere, thousands of people gathered at Denver’s City Park to honor King with speeches and a three-mile march into downtown.

In Concord, N.H., four white supremacists rallied at the Statehouse to ``congratulate″ New Hampshire for remaining the only state without a legal King holiday. An opposing group, the National People’s Campaign, charged at them and knocked down the group’s podium and flags.

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