July 23, 2002 at 9:05 PM EST - Updated June 29 at 11:30 PM
By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called on blacks to register to vote this fall, saying that control of Congress hinges on their turnout.
Coretta Scott King (pictured, above) on Tuesday asked black organizations to make voter registration a priority in hopes of increasing the number of voters registered by 20 percent.
"If we don't turn it out on Nov. 5, the whole country will suffer and we will reap the worst of it," King told about 600 people during a luncheon at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's annual convention.
She expressed disappointment over what she described as a shortage of black officeholders in the United States, particularly females, before an audience that included Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, who represents the Cleveland area in Congress.
"I know it's getting awfully lonely up there, sister Tubbs Jones," she said drawing laughter and cheers. Tubbs Jones is one of 14 black women in the 435-member House.
King said gaining more political power is essential to eliminating racial disparities in health care, education and housing.
She also said voting privileges should be restored for former offenders who have been released from prison.
Voter registration has been one of the dominant themes of the SCLC convention.
Mrs. King's son, Martin Luther King III, who has been president of the SCLC since 1998, urged registration of more black voters, beginning with 18-year-olds, during a speech Sunday at the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church.
His father spoke from the same church podium nearly 40 years ago on the same subject.
Mrs. King on Tuesday encouraged voters to choose candidates who will invest in families and children.
"When it comes to military spending or tax cuts for the wealthy, our government always seems to have a blank check ready," she said. "But somehow there is never enough to invest in improving the health, education and well-being of our children."
She also urged debt relief for Africa, criminal justice reform for juveniles and gun control.
"We've got just four months to organize a massive turnout in the November elections. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this election for African-Americans," she said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)