President Clinton lamented violence in the streets, the New York Legislature began a special session on assault weapons, and Ohio activists marched on Ku Klux Klan leaders' homes as people across the nation marked Martin Luther King Day with a burst of activism.
Clinton said the slain civil rights leader would be pained to know his country had done so little to bring peace. He suggested King would ask, "How come this is so?"
Clinton, who has been accused by some civil rights activists of talking more than acting, also announced the start of an "empowerment zone" community development program and signed an executive order on housing discrimination.
In a speech at Howard University, Clinton saluted King as the nation's premier voice "for human rights and human potential."
Coretta Scott King, on the day marking the 65th birthday anniversary of her husband, said poverty and injustice do not justify violence and brutality.
"No injustice, no matter how great, can excuse even a single act of violence against another human being," Mrs. King said in her annual "State of the Dream" speech in Atlanta.
But racial divisions also were apparent on the holiday. In New York City, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told a mostly black audience that he was troubled by reports many blacks fear him. A black woman shouted at him, "We find you despicable."
Giuliani, who is white, defeated David N. Dinkins, the city's first black mayor, last year in a bitterly contested election.
In Albany, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo was interrupted several times by applause when he spoke at a holiday ceremony about banning assault weapons.
In Ohio, activists turned their attention to the Ku Klux Klan, trudging through snow to stage protests against klansmen in their own neighborhoods, including demonstrations at klan leaders' homes in Cleveland and Coshocton, about 50 miles east of Columbus. There were no reports of violence or arrests.