Obama Urges Volunteerism on MLK Day

Posted January 16th, 2012 at 4:35 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama and his family volunteered at a Washington, DC school Monday, to honor slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Obama painted a bookcase at the event, on the annual Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Afterwards, the president told reporters that King wanted to inspire everyone to make a difference in his or her community, saying there is “nobody who can't serve.”

The holiday, observed on the third Monday in January, marks the birthday of King, who fought discrimination and racism in the 1950s and 1960s. King would have been 83 years old this year.

Mr. Obama's attorney general was in South Carolina for the holiday, at a rally against a controversial law requiring voters to show government-issued identification. The Obama administration has opposed the law. The U.S. Justice Department says the law will make it harder for many people, especially minorities, to exercise their right to vote.

Attorney General Eric Holder said “both overt and subtle” discrimination remains “all too common,” and that the right to vote must be protected.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

He gained prominence after leading a successful protest against segregation on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Under that system, blacks were required to sit in the back of the bus and, if the vehicle was full, they had to give up their seats to white people.

The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 made segregation illegal. King, an advocate for non-violent protests, won the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.

New this year is the towering monument to the Baptist preacher and activist on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

President Obama spoke at a ceremony for the new memorial in October, declaring that the United States must follow King's example by continuing to strive and struggle for a better country.