January 21

America honors legacy of Martin Luther King

Leaders talk about how far the nation has come in the past 50 years and how more needs to be done.

By Phillip Lucas
The Associated Press

ATLANTA — As the nation remembered and reflected Monday on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., leaders and everyday Americans talked about how far the country has come in the past 50 years and how much more is to be done.

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Letters spelling "We Believe" are carried by a group during a march honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in San Antonio.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

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Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at Rowan University in Philadelphia on Monday.

The Associated Press

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At Ebenezer Baptist Church in King's hometown of Atlanta, civil rights leaders and members of King's own family spoke about poverty, violence, health care and voting rights, all themes from the civil rights struggle that still resonate to this day.

"There is much work that we must do," King's daughter Bernice King said. "Are we afraid, or are we truly committed to the work that must be done?"

The event in Atlanta featured music, songs and choirs and was one of many celebrations, marches, parades and community service projects held Monday across the nation to honor the slain civil rights leader. It was about 50 years ago today that 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. King would win the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said not many states could boast a native son that merited a national holiday. "But we Georgians can," he told the audience.

Deal said this year he would work with state legislators to find a way to honor King at the Georgia Capitol, which drew a standing ovation. He did not give any specifics, but civil rights leaders have suggested a statue. The only current tribute to King at the state Capitol is a portrait inside the Statehouse.

"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."

In the fall, a statue of 19th century white supremacist politician and newspaperman Tom Watson was removed from the Capitol.

Deal also touched on criminal justice reforms his administration has tried to make, including drug and mental health courts, saying too many people are not being rehabilitated in prisons.

"Let's build a monument, but the monument should inspire us to build a better world," said the Atlanta event's keynote speaker, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. He also said the growing disparities in income, opportunity and health care are indications of a continuing struggle for equality decades after King's death.

The event closed with the choir singing "We Shall Overcome," with visitors singing verses in Spanish, Hebrew and Italian as audience members joined hands and swayed in unison.

President Barack Obama honored King's legacy of service by helping a soup kitchen prepare its daily meals. Obama took his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha to DC Central Kitchen, which is a few minutes away from the White House.

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.

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