US candidates court black vote on King anniversary

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton sought to shore up support among black voters on Friday in the city where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr was slain 40 years ago.

Democrat Barack Obama honoured King’s legacy with a speech in Indiana, while his rivals attended activities in Memphis marking the anniversary of the day King was gunned down as he stood on a Lorraine Motel balcony.

“I think it’s important to spread the message that Dr King’s work is unfinished in places like Indiana and North Dakota,” Obama, who would be the first black US president, told reporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

As a steady downpour soaked a crowd outside the Lorraine Motel, Arizona Senator McCain got a mixed greeting at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

A couple of people shouted “No more war” as McCain, an Iraq War supporter, was introduced. There were scattered boos as McCain said “I was wrong” for voting against creating a federal King holiday while he was a member of the US House of Representatives in 1983.

Others shouted: “We forgive you.”

McCain, who will face Obama or Clinton in the November US presidential election, noted he had afterward supported a King holiday in his home state of Arizona.

“We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr King understood this about his fellow Americans,” McCain said.

McCain said he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam when King was assassinated, and that the news was broadcast to the prisoners. “I think they knew that that it would hurt our morale and make us worry a great deal about our country, and they were right,” he told NBC News.

Clinton spoke at Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God of Christ, where King gave his famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech the day before he died.

She said if elected president she would appoint a Cabinet-level “poverty czar” to address the problems of the disadvantaged, the people for whom King fought.

“He never gave up and neither should we,” Clinton said.
“Like with any faith there were dark moments—but he would always come back from those dark places. And so must we.”

Under pressure from the Obama campaign, Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, released eight years of tax records on Friday that showed they made $109-million since leaving the White House, including $51-million from Bill Clinton’s speeches.

The couple paid more than $33-million in taxes and gave more than $10-million to charity between 2000—their last year in the White House—and 2007, the records showed.

Obama released his returns from 2000 to 2006 last week.

Race roiling

Forty years after King’s assassination set off race riots in more than 100 US cities, race is roiling US politics this presidential election year.

Both McCain and Clinton have some fence-mending to do among African-Americans.

McCain rankled black voters by skipping a Republican debate on African-American issues in September.

Clinton irked some black voters by saying on the campaign trail that King was not solely responsible for improvements in civil rights laws and that 1960s President Lyndon Johnson had a lead role as well.

Obama has been criticised over inflammatory sermons given by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the retired pastor at Obama’s Chicago church, as he railed against the US history of segregation.

Obama, who is getting overwhelming black support, told the crowd in Fort Wayne that American politics had not lived up to King’s dream.

“For a long time, we’ve had a politics that’s been too small for the scale of the challenges we face,” he said. “Instead of having a politics that lives up to Dr King’s call for unity, we’ve had a politics that’s used race to drive us apart.”

Clinton, who would be the first woman to win the White House, is scrambling to capture the Democratic presidential nomination from Obama in what seems an increasingly uphill battle.—Reuters

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