Bush Booed at Martin Luther King Gravesite
By Randall Mikkelsen
In a sign of the difficulty President Bush faces as he tries to
win black support for his reelection, several hundred protesters
loudly booed him on Thursday as he laid a wreath at the grave
of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
"Bush go home" and "peace not war" the predominantly
black crowd of protesters shouted from behind a barrier of buses,
as Bush paid tribute to King on the 75th anniversary of his birth.
Bush wants to improve his standing among black voters this reelection
year, after winning less than 10 percent of the African-American
vote in 2000.
The president was accompanied by King's widow Coretta Scott King,
and sister, Christine King Farris. He placed the wreath, bowed
his head for a few moments, and departed without speaking or facing
the protesters as the boos from the crowd increased. The protesters
carried signs with slogans like "Money for jobs and housing,
not war" and "It's not a photo-op George."
A White House spokesman defended Bush's visit to the grave of
the assassinated civil rights icon. "This is about paying
tribute to someone who had a tremendously positive influence in
shaping the world that we live in today ... it's a solemn moment,
a nice way to honor Dr. King," spokesman Scott McClellan
Bush was in Atlanta as part of a two-state swing during which
he also raised $2.3 million in campaign funds, trumpeted a reelection
endorsement from Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, and promoted
government aid for religious charities.
"Today, all Americans benefit from Dr. King's work and his
legacy of courage, dignity, and moral clarity," Bush said
in a written statement proclaiming the annual holiday. Bush faces
a stiff challenge in wooing black voters. "Bush's policies
contradict everything Dr. King stood for," said Ann Mauney,
a member of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition. U.S. Rep.
Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Congressional
Black Caucus), criticized the grave visit as "yet another
symbolic gesture that lacks any real substance." "Every
policy decision of the Bush Administration including the war in
Iraq, healthcare, jobs, the economy, judicial nominations, housing,
the environment, as well as secondary and higher education, has
done nothing to strengthen Dr. King's dream," Cummings said.
Earlier on Thursday, Bush hailed King's legacy during a visit
to the predominantly black Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal
church in New Orleans. "I'm really not worthy to stand here,
when I think about the fact that ... this is the very place where
Martin Luther King stood, as well, some 42 years ago." He
also promoted his program of government aid for religious charities,
which is popular among some black clergy. He announced new rules
that help "faith-based" charities compete for $3.7 billion
in Justice Department funding.