In Compton, Clinton invokes King’s legacy

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton invoked the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King in an appearance today at a church in Compton -- part of an effort to shore up her support in California less than three weeks before the state’s presidential primary.

Clinton was warmly received at the Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where she told the largely African American audience that they need a president who will remember them from a distance of 3,000 miles.

An earlier version of this article said the church that Hillary Clinton visited in Compton was called the Zion Missionary Baptist Church. The correct name is Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church.


“Compton is birthing a community, but you can’t do it alone,” Clinton said. “You need to know that someone all the way across the country is rooting for you and will be thinking about you every day. What is it that I can do to make sure this birth is easy and successful and [help] you bring forth a beautiful new Compton?”

Though she did not mention her chief rival by name, she seemed to be making a veiled criticism of Sen. Barack Obama when she said: “As the scripture reminds us, we cannot be just hearers of the word, we must be doers.” She repeated that thought later in her speech.

The message tracks Clinton’s charge that Obama is better at delivering speeches than producing results.

Clinton and Obama are battling for the black vote, a constituency at the heart of the Democratic base. Hoping to connect with the crowd, she told how when she was a teenager growing up in the Chicago suburbs, she went into the city with her church to hear King speak.

“So I traveled down in our rickety church bus to go to hear Dr. King preach about ‘sleeping through the revolution’ -- a famous sermon that called each and every one of us to recognize that the times in which we live demand more than just our silent observation.”

King’s legacy has proved a sore subject for Clinton. Last week, she angered some black leaders when she said that for King’s work to be realized, former President Lyndon Johnson needed to sign civil rights legislation into law. In the analogy she drew, she was the Johnson figure, ready to take action.


“It took a president to get it done,” she said.

Following days of escalating anger, the Clinton and Obama campaigns agreed to a truce, promising not to stoke the dispute any further.

Hard feelings were not evident at Zion. Jacqueline Williams, a church pastor from Fontana who came to see Clinton, said she wasn’t aware of the dispute, but didn’t blame Clinton.

Indeed, what Clinton said was “probably true because even though Dr. King had a lot of support, it actually takes someone in power to get it implemented,” Williams said.

Williams said she planned to vote for Clinton in the California primary on Feb. 5.

In her address, Clinton laid out her program to help struggling communities. She said she would take steps to retrain workers for jobs developing new energy sources. She also advocated a 90-day freeze on housing foreclosures, counseling for people facing foreclosure, and an expansion of unemployment insurance.

“In California alone, 95,000 homes are in foreclosure and many families are struggling and many of those American dream homes are being lost are the hardest working people in California,” she said.

Criticizing the penal system, she said she would spend $200 million over five years to help people re-enter the community after leaving prison.


“I want to divert a lot of them from the criminal justice system to start with,” she said. “A lot of our young people of color are in our prison system and they don’t belong there. They’re nonviolent offenders. They are not given the support they need when they get in trouble the first time.”

Later in the afternoon, Clinton visited Cal State Northridge, where she was asked whether she might make Obama her vice presidential nominee if she wins the Democratic primary.

Clinton replied that she is “superstitious” and “can’t think that far ahead.”

Though she and her husband have portrayed Obama as inexperienced and unready for the presidency, she struck a gracious note.

“He is an extraordinary man and he has so much to give our country,” Clinton said. “I hope that however it works out that he will be a major figure in American politics for years and years to come.

“I certainly support that.”

Clinton was also scheduled to make a campaign stop today at UC Santa Barbara. On Friday, she is scheduled to be in Nevada, which holds its caucus the following day.