ATLANTA -- On "Sweet Auburn" Avenue, at the old Ebenezer Baptist Church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, people regard the Jan. 15 U.N. Security Council deadline authorizing use of force in the Persian Gulf as one of the ironies of troubled times.
"It is on the birthday of Dr. King, who preached nonviolence for so long, that we are saying we are free to unleash all that violence," the Rev. Joseph Roberts said.
Seven members of his congregation are in the gulf, and memories of Vietnam are evoked often here. Roberts and dozens of other voters here say they have been urging their congressman, Rep. John Lewis (D), to do what he can to prevent war.
"I told him I was counting on him to help put the brakes on this thing," Roberts said. "The president seems hellbent on brinksmanship to bring Saddam Hussein to his knees. It might work. It makes me very uncomfortable. One miscalculation could have us in a holocaust."
Margarita Bianco, 35, who teaches at a private integrated elementary school, put it more bluntly: "I think the reasons for our involvement have been very unclear. Congress needs to vote on this. It would frighten me if we didn't have that checkpoint in our system."
Lewis's 5th Congressional District lies mostly in urban Atlanta, and about two-thirds of its residents are black. If the area has a spiritual center, it is Auburn Avenue and the slain civil rights leader's old church. His district also includes 45 public housing projects and poor black neighborhoods, and he has more poor and lower-middle-class constituents than wealthy ones.
Anxiety about war is felt acutely in the poorer neighborhoods. The military, regarded after Vietnam as a great way for lower-class young people to finance a college education, suddenly is being viewed differently.
Raymie Malloy's husband financed medical school by joining the Reserve Officers' Training Corps in college. Then he stayed in the reserves. Two months ago, he was called to active duty and likely will go to the gulf if war breaks out.
"You find yourself saying, 'Wait a minute. That's my 40- or 50-year-old husband,' " Malloy said.
Roberts added that the disparity of the racial mix in the military hit home hard when the seven members of his church shipped out. Latest figures show that blacks comprise 13 percent of the population but 20 percent of the military, including 30 percent of the Army.
"The black community is very sensitive to a large percentage of young black men and women coming home in body bags," Lewis said in a telephone interview.
"Every place I've gone, blacks, whites, children, rich people, lower-income people, Republicans, Democrats say to me over and over again, 'Please, congressman, keep us out of war,' " said Lewis. "The people in the district are very troubled. They don't want to see young men and women returning here in body bags."
At The Children's School, where Lewis was a guest speaker last month, Bianco has been teaching a unit on the Middle East to her second- and third-graders.
She said that her students follow gulf developments closely and that the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait increased anxiety.
"There's a fear of war that's shared by all of us," she said. "It's in our papers, on the radio, on television. It affects us all."