ATLANTA (AP) – Hundreds of people filled Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Monday to remember and reflect on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of many events across the nation to honor the slain civil rights leader.
The service at Ebenezer featured prayers, songs, music and speakers. Across the country, there were also speeches, parades, marches and community service projects to honor King, an Atlanta native.
About 50 years ago Monday, King had just appeared on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year, and the nation was on the cusp of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But many of the themes of the civil rights struggle, such a as poverty, violence and voting rights, still resonate with people.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said there were not many states that can boast a native son that merits a national holiday before saying, “but we Georgians can.”
Deal said this year he would work with state legislators to find an appropriate way to honor the Nobel Peace Prize winner at the Georgia Capitol, which drew a standing ovation from the audience. He did not give any specifics, but civil rights leaders have suggested a statue at the state Capitol.
“I think that more than just saying kind thoughts about him we ought to take action ourselves,” said Deal, a Republican. “That’s how we embed truth into our words. I think it’s time for Georgia’s leaders to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and take action, too.”
Deal also touched on criminal justice reforms his administration has tried to make, including drug and mental health courts and community-based services to keep non-violent criminals and young people out of prison.
Vice President Joe Biden addressed the National Action Network’s MLK Breakfast, urging them to protect voting rights.
“Let me remind you all, it all rests ultimately on the ballot box, so keep the faith, or as my grandmom would say, ‘No, Joey, go spread the faith.’ It’s time to spread it,” Biden said.
New York City’s new Mayor Bill de Blasio marked the day by talking about economic inequality, saying it was “closing doors for hard-working people in this city and all over this country.”
“We have a city sadly divided between those with opportunity, with the means to fully partake of that opportunity, and those whose dreams of a better life are being deferred again and again,” he told an audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In Ann Arbor, Mich., activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte planned to deliver the keynote address for the 28th annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium.
Arthur Goff, 38, of Frederick, Md., visited the King Memorial in Washington with his mother, his son, his sister and her children.
Goff’s mother, 68-year-old Loretta Goff, said she was in nursing school in New York when King died in 1968 and remembers it being a traumatic time. Now, she said, everyone is responsible for continuing King’s legacy.
“There is still so much more to do,” she said.
In Memphis, Tenn., where King was assassinated, an audio recording of an interview with King was played at the National Civil Rights Museum. The recording sheds new light on a phone call President John F. Kennedy made to King’s wife more than 50 years ago.
Historians generally agree Kennedy’s phone call to Coretta Scott King expressing concern over her husband’s arrest in October 1960 – and Robert Kennedy’s work behind the scenes to get King released – helped JFK win the White House.
The reel-to-reel audiotape was discovered by a man cleaning out his father’s attic. The father, an insurance salesman, had interviewed King for a book he was writing, but never completed it and stored the recording with other interviews he’d done.
At the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., the centered showed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the hour. In August, tens of thousands of Americans visited the National Mall to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Several people who were scheduled to speak at that event but were cut because there was not enough time were invited to speak at Ebenezer.
King was born Jan. 15, 1929, and he would’ve been 85 years old. The federal holiday is the third Monday in January and has been celebrated since 1986.