Sen. Edward M. Kennedy took his presidential campaign to a church in Shaw yesterday for his first major campaign address to a mostly black audience.
Kennedy brought along a media entourage and a personal promise to continue the dream of his slain brothers and Martin Luther King Jr. to the Shiloh Baptist Church at Ninth and P streets NW. More than 1,000 church members, local politicans and Shaw residents packed the church to hear the Massachusetts Democrat.
Outside on the street corners, dozens of well-wishers and the curious gathered in clusters, waiting for the senator's 9 a.m. appearance. Many wore slippers and overcoats over housedresses; stock clerks from the new Giant store across from the church stood on the loading dock, their long aprons flapping in the breeze.
"Look, there he is," shouted one bystander, as Kennedy's blue sedan arrived at the church, a station wagon-full of Secret Servicemen in tow. He got out of the car and made a beeline for the church.
"Umph, umph, umph. He was just like a streak of lightning, I could barely see him," the woman said, somewhat disappointed.
Kennedy, who was by then more than 45 minutes late, walked briskly to the pulpit of the humid sanctuary where he looked down on a sea of paper hand fans. He received polite applause.
The Rev. Henry C. Gregory, the church's pastor, prayed, "Lord God of Hosts, we thank Thee for this hour of truth," and scores of church women in brightly colored hats nodded and said, "Amen."
The candidate was praised by Gregory, D.C. City Council member John Ray and former Democratic National State committeewoman Lillian Huff, each time receiving polite applause. As the choir belted out a spirited "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," Kennedy nervously fidgeted with a black pen, his right hand snapping the cap on and off.
He praised Shiloh Church and black Americans, saying "When I think of all that the black family has endured, I know that there is something very right with black families."
Kennedy also described his vision of a better life for blacks, adding "This vision is not new for me or for my family."
"Martin Luther King, Jr., the modern prophet of our age, told us the night before he was killed that there was a 'longevity' more important than a long life -- and he taught us to be tireless in pursunig the dream," Kennedy shouted.
"And in return for the dream he gave us, our priority now is to enact the law declaring his birthday a national holiday in all of these United States," he said evoking a standing ovation. Then he talked of ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as a "second high priority," but the applause was not quite as loud.
He peppered his speech with words like "vision" and "dream." He talked of "races" to be run and "times" in the future. But he had to shout his words over the yelling of four hecklers from the Communst Workers Party, who demanded that Kennedy speak out on the deaths of five killed last month at an anti-Ku Klux Klan rally. As one of them was politely escorted out of the church, another who had been silent stood up to yell.
"From generation to generation, from 1863 to 1979, the men and women of Shiloh have never faltered in the race," Kennedy continued. "Now I seek your help to serve our common dream and our common country. Too often in the past, those who were white came to our black sisters and brothers with THEIR idea of what was best for you. Instead, we must hear your wisdom and heed your will.
"We must not only ask for your votes in an election year; we must ask for your views on every issue, every year," the candidate said. "The Congressional Black Caucus must be more than a place for white candidates to seek support; it must become a place where a president seeks and takes advice."
He praised the resilience of the black family, called for preservation and rebuilding of neighborhoods like Shaw, and the need to take care of senior citizens.