Metro Atlantans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with parades, services and talks around the region, including a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church with remarks by Rev. Dr. Bernice King, King’s daughter.
Some volunteered as part of the MLK Day of Service, participated in parades or joined in the MLK March in downtown Atlanta that ended with a rally at Ebenezer.
Others braved temperatures that started out in the 20s to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, which reopened over the weekend through Feb. 3 after a closure due to the partial federal shutdown. The reopening was funded with the help of a $83,500 grant from Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.
At the Ebenezer Baptist Church commemorative service marking what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday, speakers called attention to divisiveness and called people to action to help those less fortunate.
Bernice King in her remarks criticized the Trump administration for misquoting her father’s works “to suit our own purposes.”
King’s remarks were aimed at Trump’s border wall push and comments by Vice President Mike Pence, who during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said: “One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
“You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union,” Pence said on the show. “That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do. Come to the table in the spirit of good faith. We’ll secure our border, we’ll reopen the government and we’ll move our nation forward,” he said.
On Monday, Bernice King said: “If we really want to make real the promises of democracy, now is the time on this King holiday to stop quoting King out of context and misquoting him to suit our own purposes.”
The Ebenezer audience applauded warmly. In Washington, President Trump and Pence placed a wreath beneath King’s statue in an unscheduled visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Bernice King also called for action on problems facing the country ranging from the partial government shutdown to the resurgence of white supremacist ideologies and voter access problems.
“We are in a state of emergency because of our humanitarian crises, and it’s not at our southern borders,” she said. “The concern and compassion for human welfare across the board is being threatened.”
“When our schools continue to be unsafe spaces for learning because of impotent gun control laws…When there’s assault on voter integrity and voter access in some of our democratic elections… when a government shutdown persists to the point that it affects the livelihood of individuals and those in dire need of critical social services, this is a humanitarian crisis and we are all in a state of emergency,” King said.
The service also featured remarks from U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., and GOP Attorney General Chris Carr.
Perdue called for reflection on King’s words, saying: “He often reminded us that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.”
Keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., criticized the mass incarceration of those are addicted to drugs.
“We have mass incarceration in this country because we decided to declare people who are drug addicted and drug dependent, we said those people are criminals. Now we didn’t have to say that. We could have said that drug addiction and drug dependence is a health problem and we need our health care system to respond to that problem,” he said. “Underneath that choice, that misguided war on drugs, is what I call the politics of fear and anger.”
Stevenson called on people to “get proximate to the poor.”
“We cannot stay in places surrounded by the powerful and the privileged and the talented,” Stevenson said. “We’ve got to make a commitment now to do something about the millions living under the federal poverty level.” He urged people to remain hopeful, saying “Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.”
Bernice King called that message particularly valuable because “right now, a lot of people do feel hopeless with the divisive climate that we’re in.”
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