Biden: Americans should ‘be careful’ of Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy

Biden: Americans should ‘be careful’ of Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy

Biden: Americans should ‘be careful’ of Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy

President Joe Biden made a historic pilgrimage to the ‘Church of America’s Liberty’ on Sunday to mark Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, saying democracy was at a perilous time and the life and civil rights leader’s legacy “shows us the way and we should pay heed.”

As the first sitting president to deliver a Sunday morning sermon at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Biden cited the telling question King himself once posed to the nation.

“He said, ‘Where do we go from here? ‘” Biden said from the pulpit. “Well, my message to this nation on this day is that we go forward, we go together, when we choose democracy over autocracy, a beloved community over chaos, when we choose the believers and dreams, to be doers, to not be afraid, to always keep the faith.”

In a divided country, just two years from a violent insurgencyBiden told the faithful, elected and dignitaries that “the battle for the soul of this nation is eternal. It is a constant struggle…between hope and fear, kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice”.

He spoke out against those who ‘indulge in racism, extremism, insurrection’ and said the fight to save democracy is taking place in courthouses and ballot boxes, protests and other means. “At our best, the American promise prevails. … But I don’t need to tell you that we’re not always at our best. We are fallible. We fail and fall.

The Ebenezer stop came at a tricky time for Biden after Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the president’s handling of classified documents after leaving the vice presidency in 2017. The White House on Saturday revealed that additional classified documents were found at Biden’s home near Wilmington, Delaware.

Introducing Biden, the church’s senior pastor, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock noted that the president was “a devout Catholic” for whom “this Baptist service might be a little rambunctious and spirited. But I saw him there- down applaud.”

King, “the greatest American prophet of the 20th century”, as Warnock put it, served as co-pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.

Warnock, like many Democrats in battleground states who was re-elected in 2022, kept his distance during the campaign with Biden as the president’s approval rating lagged and the rate of inflation rose.

But with the election behind him and a full six-year term ahead, Warnock has fully embraced Biden in service. Near the end, he asked Biden to come outside the church and asked Ebenezer worshipers to pray for the president as he listed many of Biden’s legislative accomplishments.

“This, my friends, is the work of God,” Warnock said, adding that Biden “had a little something to do with it.”

As Biden begins to turn his attention to a re-election effort expected in 2024, Georgia is going to get his full attention.

In 2020, Biden managed to win Georgia as well as tightly contested Michigan and Pennsylvania, where black votes made up a disproportionate share of the Democratic electorate. Turning black voters into those states will be critical to Biden’s 2024 hopes.

The White House has tried to promote Biden’s agenda in minority communities. The White House cited efforts to encourage states to consider equity for public works projects when spending money from the administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The administration also moved to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, removing a policy widely seen as racist.

The administration also highlights Biden’s work to diversify the federal justice system, including his appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the confirmation of 11 black women justices to federal appeals courts — more than those installed in those powerful courts under all previous presidents combined.

Biden failure to gain passage of a measure that would have strengthened suffrage protections, a central campaign pledge, is one of his biggest disappointments of his first two years in office. The task is even more daunting now that Republicans control the House.

In his remarks, the President said that despite all the progress the United States has made, the country has now reached a critical point in its history. He said democracies can roll back, noting the breakdown of institutional structures of democracy in places like Brazil.

“Progress is never easy, but it is always possible and things are looking up as we move towards a more perfect union,” he said. “But at this inflection point, we know a lot of work needs to go on on economic justice, civil rights, voting rights, protecting our democracy. And I remember our job is to redeem the soul of America.”

This moment, he said, “is the moment to choose. … Are we a people who will choose democracy over autocracy? I couldn’t ask that question 15 years ago because everyone thought democracy was established. … But it’s not.” Americans, he said, “must choose community over chaos. … These are the vital issues of our time and the reason I am here as president. I believe that life and Dr. King’s legacy shows us the way and we should be careful.”

King, who was born on January 15, 1929, was killed at age 39. He helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Members of King’s family attended the service, including his 95-year-old sister, Christine King Farris.

“I’ve spoken in front of parliaments, kings, queens, world leaders…but it’s intimidating,” Biden said as he opened his sermon.

The president plans to be in Washington on Monday to speak at the National Action Network’s annual King’s Day breakfast.


This story has been updated to indicate that Christine King Ferris is the sister of Martin Luther King Jr.

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