The Rev. Benjamin Hooks, executive director-elect of the NAACP preached a sermon here this week to President Carter, although the new chief executive wasn't in church to hear him.
Hooks, a Baptist minister, said that in the first year of the third century of the nation's history, racial prejudice and lack of full opportunities for minorities remain the major problem in the United States.
"We have a date to finally close the color line," Hooks told a predominantly black congregation of 200 at John Wesley AME Zion Church on 14th Street NW.
"Black folk have caught hell in this country ever since we've been here, and I don't think it's going to end in the next four years," he added.
"We (blacks) have to say to Brother Carter, we want you to be a good President, but whether you are or not, we're not going to give up . . . We cannot sit down and wait for someone to deliver us . . . We have to get up . . . The time has come."
His stern message summed up otherwise cautious remarks voiced here all week by city religious leaders.
For the first time in the history of an inaugural, an informal committee of clergy and laity planned several grassroots worship services. THe predominantly black interfaith committee also included two rabbis. Many of the organizers are longtime Carter supporters.
The purpose behind the community worship was to marshall hopeful spiritual sentiments for a change toward a more just society. While the participants asked God's blessings on the new administration, they also listed such social evils as poverty, racism, sexism and unemployment. That must be overcome.
They vowed to hold Presidnet Carter to his promises, particularly to minorities, and they indicated that they would take a keener interest in how the President governs.
Sponsoring the three programs was the D.C. Host Inaugural Committee and the Council of Churches of Greater Washington.
At first service Sunday at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, about 2,000 people gathered to hear prayers led by Islamic, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Greek Orthodox clergy.Another 50 people prayed in the chill on the Capitol's west steps at noon Wednesday. One participant was Carter Stapelton, the President's sister, who read a litany prepared for these services.
"Gracious God," she read, "as we embark upon a new commitment, bring forth a new spirit in us and grant that a new American may spring both forth in our midst. May the people in this new America embody honesty, integrity and trust"
The Rev. John Martin, pastor of Holy Comforter Baptist Church here, explained that the black religious leaders felt that Carter needed to be reminded that "we helped elect him."
"The issue is, what has been promised to blacks by the Carter administration and what has been accomplished to date?" he said at the final program Wednesday night.
"What is projected in the overall employment for blacks and minorities? . . . What about housing? How will black leaders act in seeking relief for our constituents through government . . . What does Mr. Carter consider to be a 'new spirit, a new commiment, a new America'?"