There was no big speech or fancy ceremony when President Obama observed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday last month. Instead, for his first King holiday as president, Mr. Obama quietly installed a rare signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in the Oval Office and invited a small group of African-American elders and young people to come see it.
The private gathering -- "an intimate discussion," in the words of Dorothy Height, a 97-year-old grande dame of the civil rights movement -- was typical of Mr. Obama, who has steered clear of putting race front and center in his administration. But that low-key approach is frustrating some black leaders and scholars, who are starting to challenge Mr. Obama's language and policies.