ATLANTA (AP) — A day before the U.S. Senate is set to pass major suffrage legislation that is in danger of failing, the eldest son of Martin Luther King, Jr. condemned federal lawmakers for their inaction.
Speaking Monday in Washington, DC, Martin Luther King III said that although he marked the federal holiday with his father’s name, he was not there to celebrate. He was there to call on Congress and President Joe Biden to pass the sweeping legislation that would help ease Republican-led voting restrictions passed in at least 19 states that make it harder to vote.
“Our democracy is on the verge of serious trouble without these bills,” he said.
Monday’s holiday marked what would have been the 93rd birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who was just 39 when he was assassinated in 1968 while helping sanitation workers strike for better pay and workplace safety in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the United States, other holiday events included marches in several cities, acts of service in King’s name, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s annual service at the slain civil rights leader’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. , where U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor.
The pews have been packed with politicians in recent years, but given the pandemic, many have instead delivered pre-recorded or live-streamed remarks, including Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Biden said Americans must engage in the unfinished work of the king, provide jobs and justice, and protect “the sacred right to vote, a right from which all other rights flow.”
“It’s time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand,” Biden said. “It is time for every American to stand up. Speak up, make yourself heard. Where are you ? »
Democrats had hoped to vote on the legislation on Monday, in a show of respect for the late civil rights leader as the issue gained political momentum late last year and culminated in a powerful, brutal speech last week. of Biden, who compared the January 6, 2021 violence and election subversion of today with the civil rights struggles led by King and others. But that comes too late for many civil rights leaders.
Senate Republicans remain united in opposition to Democratic ballot bills, and the 50-50 chamber needs 60 votes to pass the legislation. Two Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, remain opposed to changing Senate rules that would allow Democrats to pass the bills without the GOP. The vote has been pushed back to Tuesday, but there appears to be no way the legislation will protect the right to vote.
King recounted how his father also faced a rollback of civil rights from those who believed the problem could not be solved by legislation. “They told him he had to change hearts first. And he worked hard for it. After all, he was a Baptist preacher. But he knew that when someone denies you your basic rights, conversation and optimism won’t get you very far.
Sinema argued that bipartisanship is needed to solve the problem, but King countered that important steps, including the 14th Amendment that granted citizenship to former slaves, had been passed by Congress without bipartisan support.
Harris was meeting with lawmakers on Monday ahead of the vote to push through the legislation. But when asked specifically about her message to Sinema and Manchin, she did not engage directly.
“As I’ve said before, there are a hundred members of the United States Senate, and I’m not going to absolve – or any of us – from absolving a member of the United States Senate from take responsibility for following through on the oath they all took to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States,” she said.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate, responded with a series of King Day-themed videos that he said would highlight positive developments in civil rights. Scott avoided criticism of GOP actions and accused Biden of calling Republicans racists.
“To compare or confuse people who oppose his positions as racists and traitors to the country is not only insulting and infuriating, it is completely untrue,” Scott told The Associated Press.
To the sparse Ebenezer crowd, Warnock, currently up for re-election as Georgia’s first black senator, said “everybody loves Dr. King, but they don’t always love what he stands for.”
“Let the word out, you can’t remember Dr. King and dismember his legacy at the same time,” Warnock said. “If you speak his name, you must stand up for the right to vote, you must stand up on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and the disenfranchised.”
Other leaders also weighed in. Former President Barack Obama shared a photo of King’s granddaughter, Yolanda, admiring a bust of King that Obama kept in the Oval Office. “The fight for the right to vote takes perseverance,” Obama tweeted. “As Dr. King said, ‘There are no big highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick fixes. We must continue.
King “saw a great injustice in his world and fought to right that wrong,” Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said in a recorded message played to Ebenezer. “His methods ultimately led to success and showed us all that taking the high road is the best path to achieving lasting change.”
Democrat Stacey Abrams, again trying to defeat Kemp as he seeks re-election, tweeted that King’s call remains clear: “Do justice to the poor, protect those targeted by hate, defend the freedom of vote and demand that our leaders fight the wickedness of today as the best bulwark against future harm.
King, who delivered his historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech while leading the 1963 March on Washington and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, saw racial equality as inseparable from poverty reduction and the end of the war. His emphasis on nonviolent protest continues to influence activists working for civil rights and social change.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Wilmington, Del., and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, SC, contributed to this report.
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