MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. –- Taking a break from wooing Republican voters, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on Monday spent time honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. at a breakfast here while also noting their own efforts to advance African-Americans.
Gingrich told the audience of about 250 people, that the first bill he co-sponsored was legislation to designate King’s birthday as a legal holiday. The bill ultimately failed but contributed to momentum that helped the holiday come into being in 1983.
“As a Georgian, I felt a particular obligation to stand up and say this was the right thing to do,” he said.
Perry, who spoke second, recalled appointing the first black justice to the Texas Supreme Court, Wallace Jefferson. He later named Jefferson the court’s chief justice.
“This was a descendant of slaves who today walks up the highest courthouse in the state of Texas as the chief justice in the state of Texas,” Perry told the crowd, which broke into applause. “That is the powerful message that we as Americans have the opportunity to tell day in and day out. That is our challenge as Americans. Don’t just talk to me; show me. Show me the power of Martin Luther King. Show me the power of what you believe in your heart reflected every day in your values the way you live your life, the way you talk, but more importantly, the way you walk.”
Perry also urged people of faith at the ceremony to speak their values in the public arena, not just on Sundays, a message he delivers when speaking to churches on the campaign trail.
“Monday through Sunday is to speak of values and all of us need to be engaged in the public arena speaking about the values that are important to us,” he said.
Both of the candidates paid tribute to King’s legacy and urged the next generation to follow his lead.
“I would just suggest to all of you that Dr. King would ask us today not just to look back and remember but to look forward, to look to the young people here in this room, to look to the young people who aren't in this room, to ask ourselves to what degree can we give to them the same spirit of hope, the same idealism, the same belief in America, the same understanding that salvation comes through faith in God and that together we can in fact create a dramatically better future for all Americans of every background,” Gingrich said.
The candidates were followed by South Carolina GOP Rep. Tim Scott, who is African-American. Scott gave a rousing speech about how far blacks have come in America. After the event, he told reporters he was still considering “two or three” candidates for an endorsement, including Gingrich.
“He’s done a lot of work for tea party candidates,” the freshman representative said of the former House speaker. “He’s been actively involved in my world for a couple of years, so it’s not a new relationship.”