More than three hours of songs and prayers filled the Atlanta memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, a marathon celebration of the civil rights icon’s legacy that was almost derailed by the federal government shutdown.
The Rev. Bernice King, King’s youngest child, called the audience to action at the commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was known as King’s “spiritual home.” King said her father’s work should inspire all to “step up to make a difference” and “work hand in hand with others.”
“We can either continue on this course of chaos, or we can travel on the pathway toward true community,” King said. “If we’re going to stabilize and strengthen our nation and world, then we can no longer wait on another Martin Luther King Jr. It’s time for you to be a King.”
It was the 51st memorial for King at the church, where he was a co-pastor with his father from 1960 until his 1968 assassination. The service also marked the 34th Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday and what would have been the civil rights leader’s 90th birthday on Jan. 15.
The memorial featured music, dance and spoken word performances, as well as speakers that included public officials, civil rights organizers and Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders.
King also slammed the Trump administration and world leaders for allowing nationalism and xenophobia to “flourish.” She criticized specific Trump administration policies, such as the controversial family separations at the border.
“The concern and compassion for human welfare across the board is being threatened in this nation and many nations across the world,” King said. “We have witnessed the powerful resurgence of nationalistic and white supremacist ideologies that are perpetuating the dangerous, damning and destructive policies and practices against all of humanity.”
Samia Nkrumah, daughter of former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, also addressed the packed church. She told the story of King’s 1957 trip to Ghana and how he worked with President Richard Nixon, who was then vice president under President Dwight Eisenhower, to celebrate the country’s independence.
“That just shows us what a shared vision can do. It can do the impossible,” Nkrumah said. “We have a mission to accomplish, to realize the dreams of great people like Dr. King and his dear wife.”
The event was nearly canceled because of the shutdown. The church’s grounds are part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. The park has been closed since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018, when all national parks across the country either closed or remained open with “limited access,” according to the National Parks Service.
However, the Delta Air Lines Foundation donated an $83,500 grant that will allow the park to remain open until Feb. 3.
The park will only reopen permanently when congressional leaders agree on budget negotiations. But, even in the face of the shutdown, Monday’s event garnered bipartisan support.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., spoke about how his father “revered Dr. King” because he was “not afraid to challenge the status quo in injustice.” Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., cited the courage King inspired in future generations.
“Each of us would not be present today without the courage and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the King family’s continued commitment to upholding the common good for all,” McBath said.
Bernice King lauded the Delta foundation for its willingness to fund the park’s short-term budget.
“When it looked as though this King Historical Park would not be open during the King holiday due to a government shutdown, Delta Air Lines Foundation did not wait,” King said. “They stepped up with a solution.”
Other Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations were planned around the world on Monday. In Washington, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attended a wreath-laying at King’s memorial and stood for a moment of silence.
SOURCE: Marina Pitofsky, USA TODAY