Fifty years ago on Monday, the body of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was carried past the State Capitol while thousands grieved his death. But it was the spirit of Dr. King that prevailed in those same precincts on Monday — and there was both joy and resolve in the air.
The March for Humanity, which retraced part of King’s funeral procession 50 years ago to the day, attracted more than 2,000 people on a cool and cloudy Monday.
Marcher Sue Ross was a senior in high school when King was killed. Ross was friends with Yolanda, the Kings’ older daughter, and her brother had gone to school with Martin III since nursery school. The Ross family marched in the procession in 1968, and Ross marched again on Monday.
“It’s inspirational, it’s spiritual but the fight is not over,” Ross said. “No time to lay down now. It’s time to get to work.”
While the governor in 1968, Lester Maddox, fumed about the funeral procession and turned the Capitol into an armed camp, the governor of 50 years later had a much different response.
“I know that many of you, as I, remember where you were 50 years ago,” said Gov. Nathan Deal, as he welcomed the marchers to the Capitol. “Now, we have a lot of young people here who were not around at that point in time. But that was one of those historic events that those of us who were around will remember. And it is in that spirit that we are here today.”
It was Deal who dedicated to the nine-foot statue of King on the Capitol grounds a year ago, and he mentioned that moment again on Monday.
“May the spirit of Martin Luther King continue to reign here in our capital city and in our great state of Georgia,” Deal said. “May it also reign throughout our great nation. His call for equality, his call for mercy, his call for love to overcome hate still resonates today.”
The march, which went from the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church to Liberty Plaza, across the street from the Capitol, began with a service at Ebenezer, just as King’s funeral began 50 years ago. The pews in the historic sanctuary were again filled, this time with King family members, Andrew Young and other King associates. An overflow crowd of tourists and visitors watched the services across the street at the contemporary Ebenezer building.
Just as Coretta Scott King had directed that her husband’s “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon be played as his eulogy, a segment of the same sermon played today. His voice filled both chapels, his words seeming to predict his early death.
As the ceremony came to a close, King’s young granddaughter, Yolanda Renee, introduced Jaclyn Corin, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., high school shootings and a March For Our Lives organizer.
Corin said her generation of activists has learned important lessons from the old warriors of King’s generation, and it’s now their time to pick up the mantle.
“Young people have changed the world in the past and we’re going to do it again,” Corin said.
She then embarked on the march, hand in hand with King’s granddaughter. They marched in the front rank, with Martin III, Bernice King, Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and other King family members.
Also in the front ranks was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who whipped the crowd up with his rhythmic preacher’s oratory at Liberty Plaza.
“Dr. King was a dreamer, but he wasn’t asleep,” Sharpton told the crowd. “Some of y’all are sleep-dreamin’, and sleep-walkin’. He was dreamin’ while he worked. He was dreamin’ while he marched. He was dreamin’ while he fed the hungry. He was dreamin while he provided people the right to vote. Don’t go to sleep to dream. Get up and get some work done to dream!”
Sharpton spoke as well about the nature of leadership, and of who should be in the fore of great movements.
“We must be like geese when they fly,” he said. “If you see geese fly, they’re in formation. One goose is out front. But being out front you take the wind first. You take the debris first. So they take it as long as they can and they get back in formation and another goose will come and take the front. We should at least have as much sense as geese. To know that we should fly in formation. It’s not about any one of any of us.”
The March for Humanity began almost an hour past schedule, at 12:55 p.m., and the marchers sang “I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” and “This Little Light of Mine” as they swept down Auburn Avenue and then up Piedmont Avenue to the Capitol. The march covered 1.3 miles; the funeral procession 50 years before covered 4.3 miles.
As the service ended and the marchers prepared to set out, C.T. Vivian took stock.
“There is no one day or one hour,” said the aging King lieutenant. “This is a remaking and a rise of our movement. The people are here. The concern is here. The spirit is here. All over the nation. We will return to the same kind of continuous movement that Martin had.”
It was a common sentiment.
“I leave here today with a rejuvenated spirit,” the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church, said after a pre-march service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. “A renewed sense that the movement is still alive.”
At the Capitol, the combined choirs from Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” beneath the King statue.
Sojourner Marable Grimmett, daughter of scholar and historian Manning Marable, made the walk in honor of King and her late father.
Manning Marable was only 17 when he made his first solo trip from Dayton to attend the funeral.
“I’m just thinking about my dad and what it must have been for him to come here alone for such an important event,” Grimmett said. “He would be so proud today.”
Toward the closing of the ceremonies at the Capitol, four daughters of tragedy took to the podium to speak on gun control: Rena Evers, daughter of Medgar Evers; Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy; Ilyanah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X; and Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.
“He was brave enough to fight for his country but his country wasn’t brave enough to fight for him,” Evers said of her father. “He and my mother kept fighting.”
All of the daughters talked about the need to end gun violence, saying theirs is an experience they don’t want another family to go through.
“We resist the normalization of gun violence,” King said. “We dream of an America where no other family will be shattered by gun violence.”
On AJC.com, WSB-TV and WSB radio
The March 21 documentary ‘The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Channel 2 Action News and WSB Radio.
The three Atlanta news sources released comprehensive multi-platform content through April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral.
On April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the three properties devoted extensive live coverage to the memorials in Atlanta, Memphis and around the country.
The project culminates today with coverage of the special processional in Atlanta marking the path of Dr. King’s funeral, which was watched by the world.