Some Church Leaders Endorse Candidates

On a weekend celebrating the life and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., several prominent African-American church leaders came out with their candidate endorsements. Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem praised the experience of Hillary Clinton. In Atlanta, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Barack Obama was invited to the pulpit, a de facto endorsement from the former home church of King.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, with the South Carolina Democratic vote consisting most likely more than half African-Americans, the presidential candidates have not been silent on this holiday weekend.

Yesterday, Barack Obama spoke in Atlanta at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached. Obama was endorsed over the weekend by President Bush's spiritual adviser. In Harlem, Hillary Clinton was endorsed by an influential black clergyman.

And we have the details from NPR's Kathy Lohr in Atlanta.

KATHY LOHR: Being asked to speak at Ebenezer Baptist Church is a significant event and is seen by some as an endorsement of Obama. Pastor of Ebenezer, Reverend Raphael Warnock, said it was a special Sunday, one to remember Dr. King 40 years after his death and the time to claim the promise.

Reverend RAPHAEL WARNOCK (Ebenezer Baptist Church): We have to fight, bleed and die just to be able to vote. Now we can select presidents, and now with credibility, and intelligence, and power we can run for president.

(Soundbite of applause)

LOHR: Rev. Warnock called this year's election a serious matter and noted that Obama, a black presidential candidate, was there because of Dr. King's dream. Obama quoted the late civil rights leader saying unity is the great need of the hour and the only way to overcome what he calls this country's moral deficit.

He said Dr. King understood if he could unite people to take a stand, things would change.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): And if enough Americans were awakened to injustice. If they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Unity is the great need of the hour - that's what Dr. King said - and is the great need of this hour as well.

LOHR: Obama talked about the divisiveness in America and alluded to his battle with Hillary Clinton over her comment that it took President Lyndon Johnson to realize King's dream of racial equality. The Democratic presidential candidates said none of our hands are clean, that the divisions destruct us from our common challenges - war, poverty and injustice.

Sen. OBAMA: We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing each other down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

LOHR: Obama picked up an important endorsement over the weekend, that of Houston Minister Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell. Rev. Caldwell, a spiritual adviser to President Bush, says he's backing Obama because of his character, confidence and courage.

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Harlem. The New York senator said she traveled to hear Dr. King speak in 1963 and called it a transforming experience. Yesterday, Clinton was endorsed by an influential African-American minister, Reverend Calvin Butts, outside the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Reverend CALVIN BUTTS (Abyssinian Baptist Church): As a nation we cannot afford four more years of uninspired and uninspiring leadership. In our quest for change, it's time that we return to the fundamentals: experience, ability, respect, and character. It is really time for Senator Hillary Clinton.

LOHR: Commenting on why a black man was endorsing a white woman instead of Obama, Rev. Butts said it is not and will not become a race-based decision for him. He said a vote for Clinton is a not vote against Obama or any community. But both candidates are vying for the African-American vote as the primaries head south to South Carolina this weekend and to Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas on February 5th.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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