Bernice King, daughter of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks during the King holiday commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached, in Atlanta on Monday. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

King Day highlights transition from Obama to Trump

Associated Press

ATLANTA — As Americans celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leaders and activists are trying to reconcile the transition from the nation’s first black president to a president-elect still struggling to connect with most non-white voters.

In more than one venue Monday, speakers and attendees expressed reservations about President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration, some even raising the specter of the Ku Klux Klan.

“When men no better than Klansmen dressed in suits are being sworn in to office, we cannot be silent,” said Opal Tometi, a Black Lives Matter co-founder, told a crowd in Brooklyn.

King’s daughter offered a less direct message, encouraging 2,000 people at her father’s Atlanta church to work for his vision of love and justice “no matter who is in the White House.”

Bernice King spoke at Ebenezer Baptist hours before her brother, Martin Luther King III, met privately with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York. The younger King described the meeting as “productive.”

Trump won fewer than 1 out of 10 black voters in November after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric, and tensions have flared anew with his recent criticism of civil rights icon John Lewis, whom the president-elect called “all talk” and “no action.”

Bernice King avoided a detailed critique of Trump, but said the nation has a choice between “chaos and community,” a dichotomy her father preached about. “At the end of the day, the Donald Trumps come and go,” she said, later adding, “We still have to find a way to create … the beloved community.”

The current Ebenezer pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, did not call Trump by name, but praised his predecessor. “Thank you, Barack Obama,” he said. “I’m sad to see you go.”

In South Carolina, speakers at a state Capitol rally said minority voting power has never been more important and some attendees expressed unease about Trump joining forces with Republican congressional majorities.

“It’s going to be different, that’s for sure,” said Diamond Moore, a Benedict College senior who came to the Capitol. “I’m going to give Trump a chance. But I’m also ready to march.”

In New York, Martin Luther King III told reporters that Trump pledged to be a president for all Americans, but King III added “we also have to consistently engage with pressure, public pressure” because “it doesn’t happen automatically.”

Trump did not participate publicly in any Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama took part in a service project at a shelter in Washington.

Back in Atlanta, Sen. Bernie Sanders brought the Ebenezer assembly to its feet with his reminder that King was not just an advocate for racial equality, but a radical proponent for economic justice — a mission that put him at odds with the political establishment.

“If you think governors and senators and mayors were standing up and saying what a great man Dr. King was, read history, because you are sorely mistaken,” roared Sanders, who invoked the same themes from his failed presidential campaign.

Sanders, who struggled to attract black voters in his Democratic primary fight with Hillary Clinton, recalled King opposing the Vietnam War as exploiting the poor. He also noted King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, where he’d gone to rally striking sanitation workers, white and black.

Activist priest Michael Pfleger, himself a self-described radical, built on Sanders’ message with a 45-minute keynote message indicting the nation’s social and economic order, which he said would get worse under Trump.

The Chicago priest said “white hoods” of the Klan “have been replaced by three-piece suits.” He bemoaned high incarceration rates, a “militarized, stop-and-frisk police state,” profligate spending on war and a substandard education system.

Pfleger said many Americans too quickly dismiss violence in poor neighborhoods as the fault of those who live there, when the real culprit is a lack of opportunity and hope. “If you put two lions in a cage and you don’t feed them,” he said, “one will kill the other in the pursuit of survival.”

Warnock, meanwhile, zeroed in on Trump for his treatment of Lewis, now a Georgia congressman who represents most of Atlanta.

Lewis angered Trump when he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he views Trump as “illegitimate” because of alleged Russian interference in the campaign. Trump retorted on Twitter that Lewis is “all talk” and said his district is “falling apart” and “crime infested.”

“Anybody who suggests that John Lewis is all talk and no action needs a lesson in American history,” Warnock said, notably declining to say the president-elect’s name.

As a young man, Lewis was arrested and beaten by authorities as he demonstrated for civil and voting rights for black Americans.

Lewis was in Miami at King Day events.

Some Republicans have defended Trump’s criticism of Lewis, arguing it is inappropriate for a congressman to question an incoming president’s legitimacy.

Clara Smith, an Atlanta resident who came Monday to Ebenezer, scoffed at any GOP indignation, remembering that Trump for years questioned whether Obama was a “natural born citizen” as the Constitution requires.

“He carried on with that knowing full well what he was doing” to the first black president, Smith, 66, said.

Elsewhere, residents in Memphis are honoring King with neighborhood clean-up events and a daylong celebration at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Bicyclists in Detroit have marked the day by pedaling to sites connected to a historic visit King made to the city.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Traffic’s creeping back and some transit to collect fares again

Community Transit and Sound Transit are set to resume fares June 1, but not Everett Transit.

Neil Hubbard plays the bagpipes in front of a memorial at Floral Hills cemetery in Lynnwood Monday morning. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Memorial Day tradition continues in Lynnwood amid pandemic

Loved ones placed flags at Floral Hills cemetery as bagpipes played in the distance Monday morning.

COVID-19 and domestic violence

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

Counting COVID deaths isn’t as simple as you might think

State relies on results of tests and death certificates in calculating the daily toll of the disease.

Stillaguamish Tribe gives $1M to food banks, fire services

“I had to do a double take,” said the director of the Stanwood Camano Food Bank, which received $300,000.

Island County gets go-ahead for Phase 2 of reopening economy

People can gather in groups five or fewer. Some businesses can open, if they follow guidelines.

The town the virus seemed to miss: No cases counted in Index

Some in the town of 175 fear outsiders could bring in the virus. Others just want things to get back to normal.

Worst jobless rate in the state: Snohomish County at 20.2%

In April, 91,383 were unemployed in the county. The aerospace sector was hit especially hard.

Boeing worker accused of murder after Everett party shooting

Police say the suspect, 35, made sexual advances and opened fire when he was turned down.

Most Read