Where King Preached, Obama's the Word

The cover of the church bulletin featured a combined photo of King and Obama with the words "A Legacy of Hope."

Two lines of boys stood at the front, each with a microphone. One by one, boys from both lines stepped forward, first to recite a line from King, then one from Obama, like this:

King: "Know that we will be free one day."

Obama: "There is not a black America, there is not a white America, there is not a Latino America, there is not an Asian America. There is the United States of America."

Wilborn called his sermon How to Pick a Dream Team, and he called King and Obama "a true dream team … the dreamer and the dream realized with a new dreamer." His conclusion: "We are all on the dream team now."

Several church members recalled King's visit there in 1968. Bennie Reams, a septuagenarian family therapist, said King made a connection — "he looked you in the face and he talked with you." She recalled the sun streaming onto King's face as he preached: "I kept thinking that he looks so radiant."

What would King think of Obama's inauguration?

"His dream has been realized," Reams said. "But he would also caution us, it's not completed. This is the beginning of the change. We all have got to work to make this dream a reality."

Mildred Cox was in the choir that day. "Greatest thing I ever saw," she said. "He would move you, just looking at him."

What would King think now? "He knew this was coming on. He had a dream. And it's here."

New York: Canaan Baptist

They called it Martin Luther King Sunday; a big black-and-white portrait of him sat at the base of the pulpit. But in sermon, prayer, and song, the memory of King repeatedly was linked to the promise of Obama.

"Two days after we commemorate the birthday of this 20th-century prophet, the world will come to a standstill," said Thomas Johnson, the senior pastor. "This is the answer to the prayers of so many who fought and died for such a day."

King came to the church in 1968 to install Wyatt Tee Walker, his former chief of staff, as pastor. Louise Gadson, 75, was there, singing in the choir. She recalled King walking through the door behind the pulpit. She couldn't remember his exact words, only what it was like to be near him.

"It was a hallelujah day," she said. "And to hear him speak: He encouraged us to fight on. And he also talked about his dream. … And he mentioned to us that he was going to Memphis." Long before dawn Tuesday, she will get on a bus going to Washington.

Johnnie Davis also was at the church that day, helping with security for King: "He shook my hand. I felt so good, I didn't wash my hand for a whole week. It was like meeting a prophet."

Davis said that if King were alive — he would have been 80 on Thursday — he would be glad for Obama's success, but not for the inequities that remain. As it is, Davis said, "He won't feel rested until equality has come."

David Hodges spent his childhood in Atlanta, where his father and King's were friends. Now he's worried the bar may be set too high for Obama, particularly by other African Americans, and that despite all the self-congratulatory rhetoric, much of King's dream — no violence, no poverty, no racism — remains just that.

But, he added: "What the election showed is that there's goodwill. … Even the most skeptical of black people cannot get away from the fact that blacks and whites alike, when they did not have to do so, cast their votes for this black man. That's something that nobody can deny."

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