WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama served plates of steaming hot lunches to the needy on Monday, one of several ways the nation's first Black president paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on the federal holiday that honors the slain civil rights leader.
Obama also scheduled a White House talk with Black elders and their grandchildren about the movement for racial equality that King led until he was assassinated in 1968. The president also was to speak later Monday during a musical celebration of King's legacy at the Kennedy Center.
His outing was part of an array of holiday tributes. Worshippers at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church heard Princeton University scholar Cornel West deliver a passionate keynote address in Atlanta, urging them not to "sanitize" King's legacy.
In Washington, Obama spent the day with King observances.
"How are you sir? God bless you," the president said, greeting one man among the dozens of men and women who filed into the dining room at SOME, or So Others Might Eat.
The organization, just a short ride from the White House, provides the poor and homeless with food and other services. Obama handed them pre-assembled lunch plates of chicken, potato salad, mixed vegetables and bread.
He brought the whole family: first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, mother-in-law Marian Robinson and some aides.
Mrs. Obama poured hot coffee while 8-year-old Sasha tagged along and handed out packets of sweetener. Mrs. Robinson walked around serving danishes from a baking sheet. Malia, 11, walked among the rows of diners, chatting with them and shaking hands.
One woman asked Mrs. Obama if she had brought the family dog, Bo. (She did not.)
It was the president's second straight day of reflection on the legacy of King, whom Obama credits with paving the way for his 2008 election.
On Sunday, at a Baptist church founded by freed slaves, Obama spoke of his reliance on faith, recalled King's work and urged hundreds of worshippers to take heart in hard times and celebrate progress — however small.