Candidates mark the 40th anniversary of King's death

April 29, 2008 12:54:10 PM PDT
Martin Luther King Jr. "seems a bigger man" than he did 40 years ago on the day of his death, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday as he stood outside the motel where the civil rights leader was slain. "The quality of his character is only more apparent. His good name will be honored as long as the creed of America is honored," McCain said in front of the balcony where King was shot in 1968.

All three of the presidential candidates marked the anniversary of King's death. Although McCain, who once voted against creating a national holiday on King's birthday, was the only one to accept an invitation to speak at an observance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King headed.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also traveled to the city where King died. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, the most viable black presidential candidate in history, chose to campaign in Indiana.

"Struggling is rewarded in God's own time. Wrongs are set right and evil is overcome," McCain said in a driving rain. "We know this to be true because it is the story of the man we honor today and because it is the story of our country,"

Obama addressed a rally in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he not only spoke of King's legacy but alluded to another leader gunned down in 1968 - Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. During the evening of the day King was shot, it was Kennedy who in a memorable, off-the-cuff speech informed a stunned crowd in Indiana of King's assassination. Kennedy was in the state to campaign in its Democratic primary.

Obama said King "preached the gospel of brotherhood; of equality and justice."

The Illinois senator said King recognized "that no matter what the color of our skin, no matter what faith we practice, no matter how much money we have - no matter whether we are sanitation workers or United States senators - we all have a stake in one another, we are our brother's keeper, we are our sister's keeper, and either we go up together, or we go down together."

Asked about his decision to speak in Indiana rather than in Memphis, Obama reminded reporters on his campaign plane that he spoke at King's church in Atlanta in January to mark his birthday and last month delivered a major speech on race.

"I think it's important to spread the message that Dr. King's work is unfinished in places like Indiana and North Dakota," Obama said.