Originally created 12/12/04

Thousands take part in unity march



ATLANTA - Saying his followers "did not come in a march of hatred," Bishop Eddie Long avoided direct comments on gay marriage while leading thousands on a march Saturday that started near the grave of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We are not marching against folk, we are marching for folk," he said after the two-mile walk to Turner Field.

Supporters from Bishop Long's 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, near Atlanta, carried signs saying "Stop the Silence."

But protesters said the anti-gay marriage message left unspoken Saturday by Bishop Long and his congregation already had been heard.

The bishop has called for a national ban on gay marriage, a stance that led to charges the group was making a false claim on Dr. King's heritage.

"He has built this march on the legacy of Dr. King, and those of us who understand Dr. King's legacy also understand Dr. King would never support any type of activity that would prohibit the rights of any people," said the Rev. Antonio Jones, of Atlanta's Unity Fellowship Church.

The Rev. Jones was part of a group of about 50 protesters who carried such signs as "Don't Hijack Dr. King's Dream" and "All Forms of Bigotry are Equally Wrong."

"While we support many of the objectives of Bishop Long, including health care and education, we do not support his marriage amendment," the Rev. Jones said.

The first "focus" of the march listed on the New Birth Web site is "protection of marriage ... between one man and one woman."

Standing with Bishop Long at the King Center was Bernice King, one of Dr. King's daughters who is an elder in Bishop Long's church.

Ms. King lit a torch at her father's grave and passed it on to Bishop Long, who carried it through the march.

"I believe this day will go down in the history books as the greatest showing of Christ and His kingdom in this century," she said.

Ms. King called Bishop Long and her father prophets.

"What's interesting is almost 37 years ago they sought to silence the voice of God when they thought they were killing a civil rights leader," she said of her father's assassination.

"Today we are the harvest of that wheat that died. You may silence a civil rights leader, but you cannot silence the voice of the living God."

Bishop Long said a goal of the march was "to present a unified vision of righteousness and justice."

"We can no longer be silent about hunger," he said at a rally after the march. "We can no longer be silent about drug abuse. We can no longer be silent about poverty. We can no longer be silent about corruption."

Bishop Long said he was joined by more than 100 ministers at the march.

"We've already achieved the greatest objective," he said. "The church has come together. ... As we take this march and this stand for God, we get back into the conversation of the nation.

"This is our coming-out day. We are here to stay, and we will be heard."

New Birth spokesman Erik Burton said at least 15,000 attended the march.