Entering the church as the last speaker in a star-studded bill of clergy and political leaders, Clinton embraced Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and made nice with everybody else on the dais, including Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers of Detroit, and Representative Shirley Jackson Lee of Texas.
She heaped praise on all the above, including Cohen, who has endorsed rival presidential candidate Barack Obama, and said one of her purposes in coming was to support Memphis in the citys efforts at an urban renaissance.
Briefly reviewing the changes on the human rights front since the death of Dr. King here 40 years ago, Clinton took note of the young people standing in the back of the room and said, Because of him, after 219 years and 43 presidents who have been white men, this next generation will grow up taking for granted that a woman or an African American can be president of the United States.
Clinton encouraged her audience to keep advancing according to the precepts of the martyred civil rights leader. Isnt it time that we see ourselves as Dr. King saw us? she asked, and proposed if elected president to establish a cabinet-level office to deal with and eradicate poverty.
The senator noted that the 40 years since Dr. Kings death had been a longer timethan the 39 years of his life on earth. Isnt that something? she said, seemingly on the verge of tearing up.
Speaking in tones of sad irony, she recalled growing up in an all-white suburb of Chicago, going to an all-white church, and attending an all-white school, and being . taken as a child to meet Dr. King, an experience that had a profound impact on her.
Clinton remembered hearing of Dr. Kings assassination while a student at Wellesley and hurling her book-bag across the room in anguish. I felt everything had just shattered .You know I joined a protest march in Boston and wore a black armband But I felt like it wasnt enough.
Dr. King, she said, taught us everything we need to know to his legacy and how to carry it forward. But in the end, it is up to us to walk that path.