ATLANTA (AP) — America has honored Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday for nearly four decades, but has yet to fully embrace and implement lessons learned from the slain civil rights leader, his youngest daughter said Monday.
Rev. Bernice King, who runs the King Center in Atlanta, said leaders — particularly politicians — too often belittle her father’s legacy to a “comfortable and comfortable king” who offers easy platitudes.
“We love quoting King in and around the holidays. … But then we refuse to live the king 365 days a year,” she declared at the memorial service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father once preached.
The service, sponsored by the Center and held annually at Ebenezer, was the focus of celebrations of the 38th King’s Day. King, who was gunned down in Memphis in 1968 while campaigning for better wages and working conditions for the city’s sanitation workers, would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Sunday.
Her voice, pacing in cadences similar to her father’s, Bernice King bemoaned institutional and individual racism, economic and health inequalities, police violence, a militarized international order, harsh immigration structures and the climate crisis. She said she was “exhausted, angered and frankly disappointed” to hear her father’s words about justice quoted so extensively, alongside “so little progress” that addresses society’s most serious problems.
“He was God’s prophet sent into this nation and even into the world to guide and warn us. … A prophetic word invites trouble because it challenges us to change our hearts, minds and behavior,” said Bernice King. “DR. King, the inconvenient king, is asking us to change our behavior.”
President Joe Biden was scheduled to speak Monday at an MLK breakfast hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Washington. Sharpton began his career as a civil rights activist in his youth as the youth director of an anti-poverty project at King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“This is a time of choice,” Biden said, echoing themes from a speech he gave Sunday in Ebenezer In the Invitation by Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer, who recently Won re-election for a full term as Georgia’s first black US Senator.
“Do we choose democracy over autocracy or community over chaos? Love over hate?” asked Biden on Monday. “These are the questions of our time that I ran for President to answer. … dr King’s life and legacy – in my view – point the way forward.”
Other commemorations reflected Bernice King’s recollection and Biden’s insinuations that the “beloved community” – Martin Luther King’s description of a world where all people are free from fear, discrimination, hunger and violence – remains elusive.
In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu spoke about fighting for the truth in an era of bipartisanship and misinformation.
“We are fighting not just against two sides or left or right and a divide in between that must somehow come to a compromise, but against a growing movement of hate, abuse, extremism and white supremacy, fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories that have root in everyone level,” she said.
Wu, the first woman and person of color to be elected mayor of Boston, said education restores confidence. Quoting King, she called for overcoming the “weariness of despair” to bring about change. “Sometimes in those moments when we’re most tired and most desperate, we’re close to breaking through,” Wu told attendees at a memorial breakfast.
Volunteers in Philadelphia hosted a “Day of Service” focused on gun violence prevention. The city has seen a spike in homicides, which killed 516 people last year and 562 the year before, the highest total in at least six decades.
Some participants in the effort’s signature project, led by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, worked to assemble gun safety kits for public distribution. The kits include “weapons cable locks and additional child safety devices,” according to organizers. They also include information about storing firearms, information about health and social services, and coping with the consequences of gun violence.
Other kits that were put together highlighted Temple University Hospital’s Fighting Chance program and included materials to enable an immediate response to victims at the scene of the shooting, organizers said. Recipients will be trained on how to use the materials, which include tourniquets, gauze, chest fasteners and other items to treat critical wounds, they said.
In Selma, Alabama, a landmark site of the civil rights movement, residents commemorated Kings as they recovered from one deadly storm system that swept across the south last week.
King was not present at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the first march, known as “Bloody Sunday,” when Alabama state troops attacked protesters in March 1965, beating efforts to pass Congress and President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Pettus Bridge was not damaged by the storm on Thursday.
The first spokesman for the Maine Black House Monday urged residents to honor King’s memory by participating in acts of service.
“His unwavering faith, strong nonviolent activism, and vision for peace and justice in our world changed the course of history,” Rachel Talbot Ross said in a statement. Talbot Ross is also the daughter of Maine’s first black lawmaker and former President of Portland’s NAACP.
“We must follow his example of leading with light and love, and recommit ourselves to building a more compassionate, just and equal community,” she added.
At Ebenezer, Warnock, who has led the community for 17 years, hailed his predecessor’s role in securing voting access for black Americans. But like Bernice King, the senator also warned against a reductive understanding of King.
“Don’t just call him a civil rights activist. He was a faith leader,” Warnock said. “Faith was the basis on which he did everything he did. You don’t meet dogs and water hoses because you read Nietzsche or Niebuhr. You need to tap into this thing that God said he met him again in Montgomery when someone threatened to bomb his home and kill his wife and new kid.
King, Warnock said, “stepped out of the comfort of a filter that made the whole world his parish” and transformed faith into “the creative weapon of love and nonviolence.”
While echoing Bernice King’s call for a bolder public policy, Warnock noted some progress in his life. As he has done in two Senate campaigns, Warnock noted that he was born a year after King’s assassination, when both Georgia senators were staunch segregationists, including one Warnock, who has been described as “loving the Negro as long as he ” in his place in the background” was door.”
But Warnock said, “Because of what Dr. King and because of what you did… I’m sitting in his seat now.”
(Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)
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