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Martin Luther King Jr. Day Met with Celebration and Protest Alike

Aired January 15, 2001 - 4:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: On this day set aside in memory of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.: a time for reflection and opportunity for protest. In South Carolina, where the Civil War erupted more than 140 years ago, the Confederate flag remains the center of bitter controversy and protests. We'll have a live report from Columbia in just a moment.

In Atlanta, activities kicked off at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is the location of many of Dr. King's sermons and speeches. Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, urged the nation to keep Dr. King's dream alive by working for peace, justice and economic equality. Among those attending today: former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes and Senator Max Cleland of the state of Georgia.

In Philadelphia, Dr. King's son symbolically tapped the Liberty Bell at noon to mark what would have been his father's 72nd birthday. Other events in the city included a benefit luncheon chaired by Coretta Scott King and civil-rights heroine Rosa Parks.

On now to the protests and celebrations under way in Columbia, South Carolina.

CNN's Brian Cabell has been covering the day-long events there -- Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Joie.

The demonstration, the rally, the march here in Columbia was much quieter and much smaller than it was last year. There were some counter-demonstrators out there, but not very many. There was some heavy security, but no problems that we saw whatsoever. As to why the numbers are down, well, the probable reason is that the flag was down off of the Capitol.

It came down on July 1. So not as many people are as upset as they were, say, last year. But, clearly, not everybody was happy. About a few thousand people out on the streets certainly weren't happy. Not only were they marching for King Day, but they were marching to demand that the flag come down and that the economic boycott against South Carolina continue until that flag comes down. Will the legislature change its mind and move the flag yet again off of the Capitol grounds? Well, the NAACP certainly hopes so. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we have to focus on our goal and on the principle upon which we stand and continue to do the work that we know is right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABELL: Now, you talk to the flag supporters -- the Confederate battle flag supporters -- and the heritage groups, and you get the sense from talking to some of them that maybe they think now they are indeed fighting a losing battle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER DAVENPORT, SAVE THE FLAG: We realize that, with what's taking place in Mississippi and what's taking place in Georgia, they are agitating. They are not going to be satisfied until every vestige of that flag and what it represents is removed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABELL: As for the tourism boycott against South Carolina, initially, it was very effective, up until the flag being moved from atop the Capitol dome. About 100, 150 conventions and meetings were canceled up until that point. But we're told by tourism officials, since July 1, since the flag was moved, it's much less effective.

Just by way of example, the New York Knicks basketball team boycotted the state in 1999. But in the year 2000, the fall of 2000, it came back to its training camp in Charleston. The NAACP wasn't happy about that. Also, movies are being shot again in South Carolina again. So the boycott clearly is weakening. The flag is here. Most South Carolinians, it seems, have accepted that. But, clearly, the people who are here today -- a number of African-Americans in South Carolina, a lot of activists -- are not happy. They still want it moved.

It's not likely to be moved in this legislative session -- Joie, back to you.

CHEN: Brian Cabell, reporting to us from Columbia, South Carolina.

In Washington, President Clinton marked the holiday by sounding one of Dr. King's familiar themes: We need to get more young people to serve their own communities. Mr. Clinton attended an event at the University of the District of Columbia, where he received a civil- rights award himself.

Also busy today: President-elect Bush, who says the nation still has much to do to achieve Dr. King's dream. Bush observed the holiday at a grade school in Houston, along with his education secretary nominee Rod Paige.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will remember the promise etched in this day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King's dream places demands on each of us, old and young alike. We can live it in the way we treat others. We can live it in the standards we set for ourselves and the goals we seek in our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Mr. Bush said one way to keep Dr. King's dream a reality is by reforming public education, something he vowed would be one of his top priorities.

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