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Bush honors King in White House ceremony

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, White House reporter

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. President George W. Bush Monday welcomed the family of Martin Luther King Jr. to the White House to celebrate the life of the slain civil rights leader, as the nation participated in ceremonies to mark his legacy of peace and activism on his 73rd birthday.

"Some figures in history, renowned in their day, grow smaller with the passing of time. The man from Atlanta, Ga., only grows larger with the years. America is a better place because he was here, and we will honor his name forever," Bush said.

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Bush joined King's widow Coretta Scott King, her daughter Bernice and son Martin Luther King III in the East Room ceremony with more than 200 business leaders, community activists and government officials. King and her children presented Bush with an oil portrait of the civil rights leader to hang inside the White House.

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"Mrs. King, thanks for this beautiful portrait. I can't wait to hang it," Bush said.

Martin Luther King Jr., a minister and Nobel Prize recipient, was shot and killed by a sniper in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. His birthday was made a federal holiday in 1986.

King thanked Bush for his leadership in promoting education reform and the legislation he signed that will implement sweeping changes to the nation's public schools systems this year.

"I want to congratulate you on your leadership on securing the bipartisan consensus for education reform that will strengthen accountability in public schools and increase the federal investment in reading education, teacher training and [helping] children with special needs," King said. "My husband was concerned with the liberation of all American from the shackles of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, war and violence."

Bush told King that his administration would be establishing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars Program.

He recalled the signing, by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, of the Civil Rights Act, calling it the end to "a century of slumber" on the issue of equality.

"More laws would be needed, and more would follow. But on that day, our federal government accepted the duty of securing freedom and justice for every American. Standing in the White House, marking a national holiday in Dr. King's memory, we are now two generations and a world away from Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham, as he knew them," Bush said.

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He said while King was viewed in many ways, he should above all be seen as a minister of the gospel whose faith gave him "the grace to forgive and the strength to love."

"'Here on all the roads of life,' said Dr. King in a sermon, 'God is striving in our striving. As we struggle to defeat the forces of evil, the God of the universe struggles with us. Evil dies on the seashore, not merely because of man's endless struggle against it, but because of God's power to defeat it.' Martin Luther King Jr. lived in that belief, and died in that belief," Bush said.

Earlier in the day, Laura Bush traveled to Atlanta to take part in the annual King memorial service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic site where the civil rights leader -- then the chapel's pastor -- delivered his first sermon more than 50 years ago.

Laura Bush, a former teacher, remembered King as "a great advocate of the American dream" and recalled his philosophy on education.

"Dr. King was guided by a single, overpowering conviction -- the dignity and the worth of every member of the human family," Laura Bush said during her remarks at the commemoration. "He believed a good education was the birthright of every American child," Laura Bush said.

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