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Bush Joins Black Congregation in Remembering Martin Luther King - 2003-01-20

Americans paused Monday to remember the legacy of the slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President George W. Bush took part on a special holiday service in a Washington suburb.

They remembered Dr. King with music and prayers in a former warehouse that is now home to a predominantly black congregation, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Maryland. "It is fitting," said the president, "that we honor Martin Luther King in a church."

"I believe, like you, that the power of his words, the clarity of his vision, the courage of his leadership occurred because he put his faith in the almighty," Mr. Bush said.

The church members rose to their feet when a deacon urged them to make the president feel at home. Some told visitors that they do not like the president's policies on racial matters, but they accorded him a warm welcome out of respect for his office.

The leaders of the congregation used the occasion to pass on a bit of a history lesson, to remind the Bush administration of the struggles of the civil rights movement and Dr. King's dream of equality for all.

Rev. John Jenkins voice rose with emotion as he talked of the changes he has seen in his 43 years of life and the challenges that still lie ahead. "I made up my mind, with the opportunities that now are afforded me, that I will never allow anybody for whatever reason - be it prejudice, race or any other thing - to stop me from fulfilling the vision and the direction and the dream that God has for my life," Rev. Jenkins told the congregation. "Don't you let anybody stop you from getting where you need to go! You reach out and reach your destiny!"

The president nodded and seemed genuinely moved by the service. In brief, informal remarks to the crowd he agreed that much work remains to be done. "Even though progress has been made, there is more to do. There are still people in our society who hurt. There is still prejudice holding people back," Mr. Bush said.

The president went to the church with a bit of fence-mending in mind. His stand on a controversial Supreme Court case dealing with race in college admissions has angered many in the African-American community. And his political party was shaken last month when the top Senate Republican, Trent Lott of Mississippi, was compelled to give up his leadership post after making comments seen as racially insensitive.